York & Albany Winter Chalet in Camden
Head through the gates to the side of Gordon Ramsay’s restaurant York and Albany, down a narrow alley lined with olive trees and you’ll discover a cross between a weekend in Aspen and an adult Santa’s grotto. Christmas trees lined with fake snow, metal stars filled with lights, bare wood and comfy cushions – it’s like being in another world.
Food comes in the form of canapés, with three sweet and three savoury options to choose from. Raclette was a pleasant enough start, but it was the fennel salami served alongside it that really caught our attention. Perfectly balanced, its hint of aniseed perfectly accentuated the cheese-laden potatoes. The Rainbow Trout and Horseradish Mousse was rich and creamy, though the pairing itself is slightly odd. Delicate fish and horseradish does not read like a recipe for success, but the latter was subtle and stripped of its punchier elements. It complemented, rather than overpowered, the fish. The Venison Croquettes were easily the best savoury canapé: shreds of succulent game encased in a crisp layer of breadcrumbs. The soft meat and crunchy covering work perfectly together, creating a contrast that takes both components to another level.
The Winter Spiced Fashion had serious boots to fill, taking its name from a drink that has seen a massive resurgence in popularity in recent years. It reads as the best of the cocktail menu, but was perhaps a little too complex. Winter spice, orange, bitters and gingerbread are all incredibly strong flavours and they all struggled for dominance. The result is a somewhat medicinal tasting cocktail that seemed torn between being a festive drink and a twist on a classic.
Chilled Spiced Cider was considerably better, a refreshingly cool mixture of vodka, cider and prosecco that was full of clean flavour. An interesting variation on a drink normally served warm, it’s ideal for sipping whilst cosying up in the comfort of the chalet. Jack’s North, a mixture of whisky, egg white, lemon and honey was probably the most traditional cocktail available but was also the best. Banish any thoughts of tot Toddies and of cloyingly spiced, honeyed whiskies – this is a remarkably sharp cocktail that is more refreshing than warming.
Chocolate fondue was the only real misstep of the night. The intention was good, but the chocolate was thin and overly sweet, leading to a skewer of saccharine sadness. Strawberries cut through the sugar but eating them in winter just feels wrong. They’re the fruity embodiment of those long summer evenings spent lounging in the dying light, not snowy cabin food. Thankfully, the Coconut and Lychee Snowballs were much better. These little spheres are pretty as a picture and taste even better, beautifully indulgent in the way that only the velvety texture of ice cream can be. The notes of lychee were faint but distinctly discernible in the aftertaste; a fruity little flourish after an overture of pure excess.
It would be a shame to finish without stressing the beauty of this little spot. The food and drink are both impressive, but they’re not the reason to come here. You’ll come for the picture-perfect cabin of peace and seclusion, just minutes from central London. You’ll come for the intimacy of the faux-fur lined hiding, for its cosiness and its romance. You’ll come because, remarkably, there really is nowhere quite like it in the rest of the city.★★★★★Food ▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮Drinks ▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮Service ▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮