By the time you read this, Alby’s might be open again.
When I visited this sandwich place, a couple of weeks ago, we were in pre-lockdown limbo and it had switched to takeaway and delivery within EH6 mode (paused at the time of going to press, as they worked out how to coordinate things).
I phoned in my order then picked it up in my 10 minute time slot.
This venue, with its pea green exterior, has been on my review list for ages but it’s off my regular path, so I never quite made it.
It was odd to eventually arrive while it was in a deserted state, apart from the very warm and smiley member of staff behind the counter, who apologised for looking at her phone too much, as she was taking orders that had been placed on Instagram.
“Take a seat,” she said, and I pulled up one of their primary school-esque chairs, listened to the sound of chopping and spreading in the rear kitchen, and checked out the Seventies style decor, with its reclaimed gymnasium floors and butter yellow topped tables.
Next time I come here, it won’t be a ghost cafe. There will be hipsters, dogs, clatter and a queue of customers who are less than two metres apart.
The coffee machine will be screeching, actual cash will be exchanged and people will be chatting about coronavirus in the past tense.
I’m looking forward to that.
‘Best sandwich ever’
We took our carrier bag full of greaseproof paper-wrapped sarnies to Inverleith Park, and observed social distancing, which I quite like, since I don’t want to hear other people’s labrador-like noshing noises or have to answer questions when I’ve just taken a huge yawning bite.
The focaccia used for their Big Hot Sandwiches (£8) made for marshmallowy and salty topped pads of softness. You could probably eat these while your teeth were in the overnight glass. (As much as sourdough is delicious, it does make for a soft palate sandpapering and gum scuffing sandwich).
“How’s your sarnie?” I shouted over to one of my crew.
He held up a sign, “Best sangwich I ever had” (sic). The illiterate one had gone for the beer battered coley, salsa verde, pickled fennel, matchstick chips, aioli and rocket version.
Apparently it was just the right blend of softness and crunch, salt, tang and garlicky burn. Much fancier than a fish and chip butty.
I’d chosen the smoked ham hock number, which featured loads of the main ingredient and all the classic ham lovin’ accoutrements including rocket, little crumbs of cheddar, a smear of the classic that is Branston Pickle, fancy potato chips, and veiny sheets of braised savoy cabbage.
We also tried the burly beef short rib sarnie with loads of shredded meat, as well as horseradish mayo, red cabbage sauerkraut, parsnip crisps and rocket. The robust breezeblocks of bread were able to grip and house lots of fillings, with a structure like Brutalist architecture.
We didn’t really need the Wee Other Bits, but maybe we’d sensed that this was our last hurrah, so ordered them anyway. The joyous portion of broccoli (£5), with florets stacked top to tail in a takeaway box, was clarted in a rich truffled burrata cream, and a layer of crumbled hazelnuts. While, their knobbly Jerusalem artichokes (£4) came on a bank of herby and garlicky bright green hummus, and a portion of skinny house fries (£3) dusted in paprika.
Their Chinese takeaway special of prawn toast (£5) consisted of fried bread cut into hefty triangles, each of which was crusted with a layer of toasted sesame seeds and a dose of hoisin sauce. We could see a nearby seagull eyeing this up. No chance, pal.
This feed is a distant memory now, and my homemade lockdown sandwiches – especially the soggy tuna mayo ones – have been utterly lame in comparison to what I received at Alby’s.
I’ll just have to wait patiently for some normality that will allow this place to re-open.
Although I’m not usually a fan of crowds, I look forward to revisiting it on its most hoaching of days.
How much? Lunch for three, excluding drinks,£41Food 9/10Ambience 9/10Total 18/20
8 Portland Place, Edinburgh0131-285 3720