Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Pining for Italy but Stuck in London

“Signore, Signora, how nice to see you again.”

Not a bad welcome for a restaurant we hadn’t visited since last November. As we sat down the Editor asked, “Have you written about Alba?”

No. And that’s weird since we’ve been coming here for ages. It’s one of our favourite restaurants in London. Sometimes you forget to mention the best things in your own backyard.

Alba is everything we love in a restaurant. It’s been owned by the same family for the last twenty years. Its low key and good for conversation. It’s not cheap but the prices are fair and the prix fixe lunch and dinner menus are a bargain. During the season, they have a truffle menu to die for. The food, mostly from the north of Italy, can also deviate into interesting regional specialties. The wine list contains hard-to-find Italians at reasonable mark-ups. If you are going to the Barbican which is around the corner, it’s a great post theatre option.

The night we were there, we were hugely excited because they had puntarelle on the menu, a classic Roman dish you almost never find in London but alas, we were too late. It had all been gobbled up at lunch. Instead, we started with octopus and squid followed by culingionis (potato ravioli) that had just been flown in from Sardinia. Covered in butter and fresh sage, and so beautiful to look at, the culingionis was divine. We washed it all down with our favourite wine from Sicily, Nero d’Avola. Total damage was £75 and worth every penny.

After dinner, the maitre d’ who, over dinner, had sung the praises of his home town, Tropea, in Calabria took us over to the computer to show us some pictures of the beaches and the church where he was married that is pictured above. All the while, one of the waiters from Venice rolled his eyes in that way that Italians have when they are forced to acknowledge other parts of Italy than where they were born. For the record, the photos of Tropea were so beautiful that the first thing we did when we got home was check flights into the closest airport in Lanezia Terme.

No Crowds complains a lot about eating out in London, a town plagued by high prices and poor service, but our dinner at Alba last Friday was just about perfect. We basked in the glow that comes from being treated like cherished regulars even though we only go occasionally. We became devotees of culingionis and we got some great travel ideas for Calabria. If you are pining for Italy but stuck in London, a meal at Alba may be the next best thing.

Alba Restaurant
107 Whitecross Street
London EC1Y 8JH
(220 m from the Barbican main entrance)

Tel: 0207 588 1798
Fax: 0207 638 5793

Open Monday through Friday for lunch and dinner
Photo credit: Wikipedia

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