Nothing is disappointing about a trip to Alby’s, but I’m left feeling disappointed whenever I try and tell anyone about it.
It’s the reaction I get. It’s not like telling a great joke and having to shrug into the silence and say, “Maybe you had to be there.” I find it disappointing, frustrating, but perhaps not too confusing that people want to talk about the price.
Yes, Alby’s is north of £10 for a sandwich.
The value for money, I swear, is there. These are great big sandwiches, super-loaves, and they’re expertly stuffed. Also, it’s okay to pay for food when you go out. Yes, there should be food that keeps families alive and on which supermarkets shouldn’t rinse us. But there’s also “treat yourself to a meal out at a local indie,” and it’s a healthy mindset to be willing to pay for that.
Besides, a slender cheese and ham sandwich at Pret is about £4. You get more than twice that in an Alby’s. I insist; the value for money is there.
Sandwiches! The menu changes a few times a month, the little cafe is busiest when that happens, and as a general rule, I recommend booking in advance. I do this over Instagram, never with a problem, and replies only during open hours.
Other wee bits, too. You can generally get a side of fries or something similar from any given incarnation of the menu. One side dish is, I think, enough to turn a lunch sandwich into a dinner.
I’d expect to see three or four sandwich options on the menu at any given time. The later you get to Alby’s, the more likely they will have run out of your favourite. I’ve been in the cafe when every single table was full, and every single table ordered the roast beef sandwich.
I’ve no problem with any of this. I like that Alby’s keeps food fresh and avoids having to stock, and likely waste, loads by running a sensibly sized menu.
Picking the sandwich can be like picking a doughnut from a display of gorgeous boutique doughnuts. There’s no correct answer, only the doughnuts that you have to leave behind. There are times when I’ve picked my Alby’s sandwich simply by working out, which I’d least like to miss out on because I couldn’t decide which option would be best.
As the opening of this review insists, these sandwiches are generally packed with food. At the risk of too much information, my arthritic condition plays havoc with my jaw, and I literally struggle to open my mouth wide enough to take mouthfuls of some of their dishes. Fortunately, I can squish things, but that gives you an idea of why I coined the phrase “super-loaf” to describe the size of some of these beauties.
Alby’s in a weird place and a corner of Leith that I’ve seen venues struggle. It’s next to Derrick’s Takeaway on Portland Terrace. That’s the crossroads of Commercial Street, Ocean Drive and North Junction Street.
There’s lots of traffic, lots of footfall but not a huge amount of offices, student digs or even people out for a stroll. Nothing nearby tends to make for people casually popping in for a lunch or a quick bite for dinner.
And yes, Alby’s seems to be flourishing. The food is a big part of that, but the friendly welcome I’ve always had is a factor too. I walk down those steps (which can be a challenge when the arthritis is placing up; Alby’s is NOT wheelchair friendly in any way, sadly) and into what might well have been someone’s front room. Someone who tends to be pleased to see me.
The tables are reasonably spartan but nice and clean, there are plants and cosy lights. The food counter is at the back, with the kitchens beyond, and if the front of house member of staff isn’t picking something up from the kitchen at that precise moment, you’ll get a hello.
Service is quick and helpful. I often have questions about food, and Alby’s is one of the places I feel comfortable asking. As previously warned, sometimes the popular options sell out, but I’ve had substitutions suggested, alternatives recommended, and even my previous orders referenced.
Just writing this review makes me think it’s time to book a table again, pop back to the sandwich shop and catch up with friends.
Cafe? Is cafe the right word for a place that gives me coffee and sandwiches? Perhaps ‘sandwich shop’ is better; it sets expectations more clearly.
Alby’s is a comfortable and welcoming sandwich shop with a few tables better suited to small groups of friends than large ones. Some tables are perfect for solo or duet dining.
There’s table service, lots of places to put bags and coats or deal with all the usual juggling a solo eater or traveller might face. It’s a recommended stop, especially if you’ve been lured out to Ocean Terminal or the Royal Yacht Britannia.
Yeah, okay, if you’re scandalised by paying more than £8 for a sandwich, I doubt I’m articulate to change your mind.
Everyone else, check out Alby’s.
Expect a large sandwich, add a side dish to make a meal and expect good company even if you’re alone.