Thursday, 28 March 2013

Alba: Unfortunately Forgettable

Just that morning my flatmate was asking about reasonably priced Italian places in London. I was racking my brain, at half past eight in the morning refused to work. Bocco di Lupo, Locanda Locatelli, L'Anima? All bit OTT for your average Londoner in search of a better-than-average bruschetta. Polpo and Trullo probably comes closest but one doesn't take reservations, and at the other trying to get a table at a time approaching normality is a rarity. Plus, Islington is a right slog for us staunch Southeners. 

So then, that night I was meeting my father for our usual father-son catch-up dinner and he had booked Alba in Clerkenwell. A quick peruse of the menu showed it to be a mid-priced Italian jobbie with underwhelming choices. My hopes were that the quality of the ingredients would gild the otherwise unimpressive lily. Unfortunately my instinctive apprehension was well placed as it proved to be correct as the food was simply rather forgettable and the interior was a little lacking in style and seemed a little dated. There were several tables of elderly folk tucking into the set menu. I'm not one to bash the elderly, but a general rule of thumb is that if a restaurant has a large number of them, the food is often less than inspiring.

The hors d'herve was a pinch of buffala on top a crispy biscuit with, my guess, would be olive paste. It could have been a dead snail for all I know as the entire mouthful was completely tasteless. It was almost impressive how little I could actually taste.

Primi were better, my cured meat selection had some very tasty besoala and average salami and mortadella. The rocket salad was topped with crumbled cheesy bread that made for a bitty, gritty taste. The Pops had the beef carpaccio, it just about seemed to past muster but much more than that.

Cured Meats

The pasta dishes were hit and miss. My 'stracci' with sausage ragout and nduja was easily the tastiest thing all night, although slightly pale in comparison to Trullo's offering. The tomato pasta with sardines won the award for most confused dish; a competent pasta dish with filets of sardines simply draped on top. Is this a dish in Italy? If so it totally past us by.

Stracci with sausage ragout and nduja

The secondi of duck confit also seemed a little confused for Italian cuisine. There are so many great Italian dishes why choose a French classic? In fact the secondi all round were a bit boring. Choices included the duck, a chicken supreme, some over-priced scallops, a veg dish and some monkfish. How I wish we had chosen the monkfish. The duck itself was pretty tasteless, not enough salt nor flavourings used in the dry marinade. Nor was the skin as crispy as you'd expect for confit. Along with celeriac puree and a wine and balsamic reduction they had weirdly placed slightly dried tomatoes. The combination between the sticky rich jus, earthy celeriac and sweet, acidic tomatoes proved an awkward marriage.

Duck confit

With neither room nor desire for desert, we called it quits there. The bottle of Barolo we had however was rather tasty indeed. Overall though, it is somewhere I would steer people clear of. My father has been going there for many years but hadn't been back for a while and was deeply disappointed. We were told the head chef was off today but the failings of the dishes went beyond execution and towards something a little more fundamental. So, for an affordable Italian restaurant, stick to Trullo.

Where: 107 Whitecross Street, London, EC1Y 8JH. Nearest tube: Old Street, Moorgate, Barbican.

How much: Starters £8-9, Pasta £13-15, Secondi  £15-19.

Food: 5/10
Service: 6/10
Slosh: 7/10
Value: 5/10
Overall: 6/10
Alba on Urbanspoon

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