‘Mere adequacy’, notes anti-hero Tarquin Winot in The Debt to Pleasure, ‘is never adequate’. Given their enormous leap in quality, it’s a dictum that can happily be applied to the steady improvement of bar snacks and pub grub in London over the past decade. A half-empty packet of Walker’s ‘Big Eat’ Salt & Vinegar and a pickled egg doesn’t cut it anymore. No wonder up-and-coming bars around London have revamped their menus to meet consumer demand.
Sitting across from the tube stop in quaint Queen’s Park, The Alice House is right at the forefront of the new, increasingly European form of wining, dining and relaxing. Customers can dine al fresco, food is sourced as locally as possible, and the cocktail menu is as well thought out and dazzlingly articulate as a PhD thesis, thankfully at a fraction of the length.
When we arrive, the enormous windows facing the street are flung wide open, allowing the evening breeze to pass through the open-plan dining room and bar. The interior is largely inspired by urban art and vintage trinkets; naked bulbs hang from the ceiling, artfully mismatched armchairs sprawl out invitingly, and smart mahogany panelling decorates the bar. It’s a cross between a waltz and a rave, and although it can feel sombre, there’s no denying that this is a smartly furnished hangout. Miraculously given the breadth of styles here, it’s not too cluttered either: plenty of space to relax.
One of the most admirable qualities of The Alice House is the devotion to their drinks. Even the obligatory jug of tap water arrives with curls of shaved cucumber within. The Elderflower Margarita, made with El Jimador Tequila, elderflower liqueur and freshly squeezed lime and mint, is as cool and refreshing as spring water, yet with a sharp acidic undertone snapping at the tongue like a baby alligator.
Meanwhile the Nettle Daiquiri – a deliciously unexpected mix of nettle cordial and Havana rum – is a riot of crisp floral notes and the smoothness of molasses. Other as yet untested cocktails on the menu include the Earl Grey Martini and the Sloe & Sage Sour, which can also be ordered by the teapot. Naturally.
The food is of a good standard but lacks some of the daring creativity of the cocktails. A poached egg and streaky bacon salad is admirable in its largely successful attempt at combining the sunny celebration of cooked breakfast with the crunchy freshness of the garden salad, although the mustard dressing ends up being a bit of a third wheel in this coupling.
Fish of the day was a cantankerous grilled mackerel served with new potatoes in parsley, a medley of in-season vegetables and, in a subsequent refinement to the traditional fish supper, a zingy caper and shallot brown butter to drizzle over it, tying the flavours together in a warm embrace. The rest of the menu is a roster of pub classics subtly altered by telling little grace notes. The choice isn’t huge but there is just enough inventiveness on offer to maintain interest.
Dessert brings a slice of lemon drizzle cake, which is remarkable only for tasting pretty much exactly like its anonymous supermarket equivalent. It’s too dry and lacks that much needed burst of citrus to enliven the sawdust of crumb. It’s adequate, but as the rest of the menu amply demonstrates, sometimes that’s just not enough.
The Alice House
53-55 Salusbury Road
Tel: 020 7624 0008