Wednesday, 25 March 2009
The Alba, St. Ives
It is very rare for a self-confessed restaurant addict and food snob like myself to turn up for dinner in any town or city in the world without any idea of where I'm going to eat. Research is 90% of the work done for you, and although you can never completely insure yourself against a bad meal, as even the most reliable places slip up occasionally, your chances of failure are far less. My problem with St. Ives wasn't that I didn't get any tips or recommendations from fellow foodies (I did), or that review sites and online press were short of ideas in St. Ives (they weren't), it was that every single review from every single individual and site pointed to the same place - The Porthminster Beach Café. Which was all well and good, but I wanted somewhere different for the first evening, even if it meant - shock horror! - turning up to somewhere I knew nothing about and just hoping for the best.
Of course, choosing a restaurant is never simply a case of sticking a pin in a map. You always have at least one clue to the standard of cooking - the menu. And it was the menu at Alba that made it stand out over the half dozen or so similarly priced eateries along the seafront at St. Ives. Nods to local ingredients, a very reasonably priced early evening set menu, and some interesting if not overly ambitious sounding dishes, it all made very good reading. First up, a bowl of steamed Fowey mussels.
The mussels themselves were fresh and meaty and came in a generous portion for a starter, but unfortunately the sauce was quite bland. Even some more robust seasoning would have helped out here, but instead all the flavours mentioned on the menu (cider, apples) were drowned in a sea of cream. Not great, but then I did still finish them.
The Alba redeemed itself with my next course of bream and artichoke barigoule. The fish itself was perfectly cooked, with great meaty, flaky flesh and a very satisfyingly blistered and crispy skin on top. The barigoule (a sort of artichoke stew, according to Google) was delicious, the sweet flesh of the artichokes sitting very well with the earthy fish and boiled potatoes. It was perhaps a dish only one short stop away from decent home cooking, but to be fair we were barely paying more than decent home cooking prices, so I suppose it made sense.
My dessert was a quite lovely pot of lemon posset, served with a sprinkling of candied lemon rinds and coconut biscuit. Although the rinds were a little chewy, the biscuits a little crumbly and the posset on the runny side, the flavours here were all great and easily made up for the slips in execution.
If a measure of a town is if you can just turn up at a local restaurant and get a decent meal for not much money, then St. Ives passed with flying colours. It wasn't the best meal I've ever had, and bits of it were downright ordinary, but considering I had nothing booked, nothing planned, no recommendations and no idea what to expect, it could have been a lot worse. I enjoyed the Alba all right, but there were no fireworks. They would have to wait until the next night...