Review, Alba Chiara, Felixstowe: ‘Who needs holidays when you can eat pizza and pasta like this at home?’
PUBLISHED: 19:31 28 May 2020 | UPDATED: 14:57 31 May 2020
Food and drink editor Charlotte Smith-Jarvis dines at a distance, trying out the collection service from one of the Suffolk coast’s newest Italian restaurants.
“Are we nearly there yet?”
“No,” my husband rolled his eyes, “be patient. God you’d think you’d just got out of prison.”
It wasn’t the kids he was telling off, but me. Just like everyone else, we’ve been cooped up at home since March, only venturing out once to a nearby garden centre. The mere thought of driving beyond our home town was enough to make me squeal – quite frankly I’ve had enough of cooking now!
If anyone had told me at Christmas that by early summer I’d be as excited about going to sit on Felixstowe beach for the evening as the prospect of a holiday in the Azures I would have laughed in their face.
There’s something a bit curious and other-worldly about tiptoeing back into society. It felt illicit somehow. And as we pulled up by the seafront, the kids longingly gazing at the pier, we did have the sense we’d have to watch our backs, as if someone would give us a telling off. Nobody else seemed as concerned as us, mind. While it wasn’t thronging with bikini-clad sunseekers, there was a steady stream of visitors to the seaside town on the eve of bank holiday Monday. All keeping their distance of course.
Finding a perch in an empty bay, we lay out our picnic blankets and poured a couple of glasses of wine for our second takeaway of the entire lockdown period so far.
Alba Chiara, one of Felixstowe’s newest restaurants, offers an easy ordering system via a link on the business’s Facebook page (it’s also on Just Eat). Food collection slots can be selected from 4pm to 9pm much of the week (check online for changes and dates) with a 15% discount for orders on weekends up until 4pm, and desserts currently half price.
It couldn’t have been simpler. I picked a date and time, chose the dishes we wanted and turned up to a queueless restaurant where the pre-paid meal was ready and waiting.
You may also want to watch:
To start there were arancini. Fist-sized Wotsit-coloured balls of al dente, silky-coated risotto without that hint of chalkiness so often found in badly made attempts. At the centre, a gooey, molten ooze of mozzarella. Each piece was encased in golden breadcrumbs and set over a generous bath of tomato sauce. I’d recommend sharing as these were whoppers.
As too were the panzarotti. Now, these were a bit curious. To me a panzarotti is a small, pizza-like turnover. What we actually got were crocche – another fried Italian delicacy, typical of Neopolitan cuisine...so I think the menu got the name wrong. Crocche are a fancier, more grown-up version of those potato croquettes many of us will have enjoyed (or endured) in our youth.
Several times larger, the smooth mash of the crocche here was stirred with salami, cooked ham and mozzarella, before being crumbed, fried and anointed with the same sauce gracing the arancini. Despite their hearty components and spell in the fryer, the crocche were surprisingly delicate, without a hint of grease. These took me back to the fritti snack joints ubiquitous in Rome.
We were all interested in seeing exactly what made Alba Chiara’s pinsa pizzas any different and gathered over one of the boxes for the ‘big reveal’. Made with a blend of flours and a higher water content, pinsa is said to be the original Roman pizza. I, with my encyclopaedic food knowledge, had never heard of them before this year, and I’ve never seen them on my travels in Italy...but there are pinsa joints popping up all over the place, especially in the States.
The oval-shaped dough is puffy, charred and almost nutty with smoke, but it’s so, so light. Imagine a naan crossed with ciabatta. The crust is so delicate. I don’t think I’ve ever eaten pizza like it. It certainly didn’t sit in my stomach like a rock for the rest of the evening. The sauce was fresh, tangy and well-seasoned. The mozzarella creamy. And with the carnivorous meat feast option it was clear they’d invested in good quality ingredients. Homemade meatballs, salty, herbal guanciale (pig’s cheek traditionally used in carbonara), shredded Italian ham, and wheels of spicy Calabrian salami.
The majority of pasta is made on site, including the house dish of strozzapreti (priest strangler if you need to know for a pub quiz) Alba Chiara.
Ever trying to be the sophisticat, I decanted the contents of the pot onto a plate I’d taken with me. Big mistake – it went everywhere.
What I did manage to siphon onto my palate though was joyous. The twists of pasta were pleasingly al dente and cut to a manageable size you could easily tackle with a fork alone. Big fat prawns were plentiful amidst the carbs. And the whole thing was coated in a veloute-like saffron cream sauce. Probably the poshest pasta I’ll ever eat al fresco.
We also tried the Milanese-style breaded chicken, which was still juicy and tender within its crumb coating, served with lemony potato wedges and a separately boxed side salad. If I was nitpicking, this could have done with a dressing, but in fairness to them, dressing such a dainty leaf can be tricky as they easily wilt soon after.
For dessert we managed to fit in some of their homemade specialities – at 50% off they were bargainous considering their size. Each would easily have fed two. The wibbly lemon tart was a bit thick-based, but the refreshing, sparklingly fresh citrus of the curd topping was a delight. The tiramisu was dreamy, and rich without cloying. And pushing my fork into the crumbling, nut-dense gluten-free hazelnut and chocolate cake was the closest I’ll get to lounging at an Italian café for a while.
From start to finish it was a delicious, memorable treat – though I recommend sitting in the lovely seafront gardens (at a distance) - sand and sauce are not friends. I can’t wait to work my way around some of the county’s other restaurants, pubs and cafes.
If you value what this story gives you, please consider supporting the East Anglian Daily Times. Click the link in the orange box below for details.