Here’s a rule that more restaurateurs should follow: if you wouldn’t want something done in a certain way in your own home, it probably shouldn’t happen in your restaurant either. Weird plates, a great show being made of your food being “cooked in front of you”, not being able to fill up your own wine glass in your own damn time… these are all things that would happily pass into dining history if this simple stricture were kept to.
Similarly, no one would voluntarily install motion-activated taps in their own loo, and so restaurants shouldn’t either. We’d come straight from the beach to the Alba restaurant, St Ives, so I kicked off proceedings with a trip to the bathroom to wash my hands, which took a full five minutes of waggling my fingers under the faucet until water finally and miraculously appeared.
What pretentious jiggery-pokery might be waiting for us on our plates, I wondered. Would we even have plates? But I needn’t have worried. The Alba offers a delightful combination of fancy food served in an unfussy way.
The seasonal menu kicks off with an amuse-bouche from the kitchen, in our case a mushroom and fennel veloute that is so good that I’m left wondering whether or not the joint is too classy for me to lick the small bowl in which it’s served clean. I decide on balance that it probably is too classy to risk it. In any case, it’s the start of our holiday and we might want to return, so I opt for my best behaviour.
For our proper starters I have mussels in a concoction of beer, black beans and nduja, which ought to be one note, but somehow isn’t. The accompanying jus is sufficiently moreish that I forget all about behaving myself and use the shells as a makeshift spoon. My companion has a trio of mackerel: a smoked croquette, tartare flavoured with coriander and vodka, and a small, gently fried fillet. Often with trios one of the treatments is a passenger but they are all pulling their weight here: my favourite, narrowly, is the croquette, which is creamy and wonderfully textured.
Mains are less successful. My guest chooses well: sea trout, served on a bed of clams, samphire and borlotti beans, that looks like it has been dredged up from the depths of the sea and tastes as if it has come straight from heaven. I opt for stone bass but the ocean isn’t co-operating: there is none available, so they offer John Dory in its place. The substitute doesn’t quite work: it distracts from, rather than compliments, its accompanying vegetables, olive tapenade and basil oil. It feels a bit like some decently-cooked white fish has intruded upon an absolutely delicious vegetarian meal.
I want to hate the desserts, all of which have eye-roll-inducing names like “Banana” (actually just a posh banoffee pie), “Strawberry” (panna cotta), and “Pink Peppercorn Ganache” (ganache). But they’re so delicious that it feels churlish to mark them down just to make a point.
All in all, including wine, the bill comes to just over a hundred quid for the two of us. For that amount of money, outside London, you want a meal you’re going to think about afterwards, and this didn’t quite deliver that, other than a lingering regret that I didn’t steal my partner’s main course.