Highland fling in London

Can you update traditional Scottish culture without creating a theme park? Pamela Buxton finds out

Waiters in kilts, haggis on the menu and bagpipes in the background would be most people’s idea of a Scottish-themed restaurant in the prime tourist land of London’s Trafalgar Square. Fortunately, Albannach, which claims to be the capital’s first contemporary Scottish dining and drinking destination, is nothing like this nightmare scenario. Admittedly, there is a sprinkling of thistles and tartan, not to mention antler light fittings and an illuminated glass fibre stag. But unlikely as it might sound, Grant White Design has ensured that these elements are tastefully incorporated within a stylish interior that avoids ending up looking like a clichéd Scotland theme park.

Albannach (the Gaelic word for a Scottish person) launches on 1 February. It is the brainchild of Niall Barnes, who noticed that, while there were countless Irish bars, there were no modern Scottish equivalents. ‘Contemporary Scottish hasn’t been done before. We’ve relied too often on our proud history, but we have to move it forward,’ he says.

With no money or relevant experience, Barnes embarked on a laborious few years of fund-raising before landing the prime site lease on a former Aberdeen Angus restaurant, which appropriately had once been a Royal Bank of Scotland branch. With the help of White, he re-shaped the space and softened the angular lines to create three floors of fine dining and drinking aimed at an affluent 25- to 40-year-old clientele.

Inspiration, says designer Abbie De Bunsen, came from the colours and textures of Scotland: soft heathers and blues, earthy browns, slates, tweeds and oatmeal. In the main double-height ground-floor space, a raised platform of comfy, bespoke seating runs alongside high-backed leather chairs and glass-topped dining tables. These stand on oak flooring inset subtly with floor motifs such as a Celtic knot, the Luckenbooth symbol of love, and a thistle.

Two key features dominate the area – a Charles Rennie Mackintosh-inspired metal balustrade by John Aspery across the front of the mezzanine and a huge antler chandelier by Elen Hunting in New York. The mezzanine restaurant walls are adorned with Scottish landscape photography by Charlie Waite and the hope is to display other young Scottish artists. In the dark, cosy basement area, a series of vaulted booths are upholstered in five different tartans. Plush furniture in suede, velvet and leather counteract the harsh raw brickwork in the adjacent whisky lounge.

With his long-held ambition now realised, Barnes has no intention of standing still – there are plans for Albannach’s own whisky, plus further Scottish-flavoured outlets in London and possibly North America.

Albannach, 66 Trafalgar Square, London WC2N – for more details tel 020 7930 0066 or visit www.albannach.co.uk

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