I find that most Italian restaurants in this country look like they should, by which I mean you can tell they are Italians, or they at least have Italian names. Not the case when it comes to Poole’s Alcatraz Brasserie, which I have often passed on my way to the quayside, usually when the sun was out and the al fresco dining was all prepared. Its red and black colour scheme for the outdoor furniture was particularly appealing, not to mention wickerwork-esque-looking chairs.
Sadly for me and my dinner companion for today – Miss Nikki Stapleton – we were cursed with the weather typical of an English summer: hideous rain. Not that the interior decoration was anything to scoff at; I just find to put a whole bicycle on the wall to be a tad on the unconventional side that’s all. Miss Stapleton – at five-foot-threeish – was not difficult to accommodate under my huge golf umbrella, which was almost immediately seized by the waiter who received us at the door.
We were presented with a rather large menu filled with just about anything one could imagine of an Italian restaurant and more: so much to the point that we took forever to actually decide what we wanted. Our drinks stewardess nearly drenched us with our own cokes (luckily I managed to save one out of the two, the other was not quite so lucky), but Nikki and I took it in our stride and jovially reassured her, telling her we were always happy of a little entertainment. Thing is she dropped something else from behind the counter a few minutes later, so I can’t help but think it wasn’t her day.
Eventually we decided: I was having Ravioli di Granchio e Aragosta (see pictured) which is essentially ravioli filled with crab and lobster meat. Nikki had Pollo e Funghi, or chicken with mushrooms (admittedly, the translation takes the attractiveness away, just a little.) They arrived after around fifteen or twenty minutes.
Now I was under the impression I was getting the larger version of my dish (there is a starter-sized portion and an entrée size), and since Nikki was having a main meal it was my perception they had assumed the same for me. I can only hope I am right in saying this was not the case, for my dish was only half the size of Nikki’s. For instance, mine was a load of shallow-stuffed pillows of ravioli sitting in the middle of a fairly large dish, covered in what was actually Lobster Bisque and a cream sauce, garnished with tomato slices and black pepper.
Nikki’s chicken-mushroom dish (see pictured) was served on the exact-same-size dish, only it covered the whole thing and was swamped in a sort-of peach-coloured thick creamy sauce of an indeterminate, almost cough linctus-esque flavour. The aroma was something enigmatic as well: it reminded me of a hideous form of liqueur; like Pernod or Jägermeister, both of which do remind me of something used to treat colic for babies. It turned out merely to be a taragon-white wine cream sauce containing none of the ingredients I just stipulated. Aside from the mushrooms, which I will not touch, let alone eat, the dish was cooked practically to perfection. Nikki insisted that the rice was undercooked, but after poisoning her whole household (including herself) with her attempt at cooking a chicken, her opinion leaves much to be desired. I would not say it was underdone; it was not as bad as Fahim’s Seafood Risotto at Amici in Torquay, but it was quite obviously microwaved so as to stay so “delicately” shaped into the cylinder it was presented in. The chicken, though, I cannot fault. When Nikki was cutting it, I thought it looked on the tough and chewy side, but I bit right through the small piece I took on my fork. The succulence was incomparable to anything I had eaten in any other Italian!
There’s only so much I can go on about that though; my dish, while disappointingly small, was delicious from the word go. Of course while it is enveloped in the little pasta parcels, it is ultimately impossible to distinguish the difference between crab and lobster meat, especially with the flavours of the bisque sauce overwhelming it. I do not care much for raw tomatoes, so I avoided the garnish, and thus the lack of substance to my dish, which I really do hope was merely the result of not enough questions being asked, left me wanting a great deal more.
Nikki, upon being put off my an ostentatious vein in her meat, only ate half of her meal in the end, and so we both had room for dessert: Nikki’s choice was a variety of gelato and sorbets, mine: a selection of Italian cheeses. Or rather, a selection of biscuits to go with the two cheeses offered alongside red grapes and raw celery (see pictured).
First of all, the only cheese celery can go well with is a blue variety, such as stilton or Dorset Blue Vinny, both of which are so popular in Celery Soup. I cannot say I rate celery much uncooked, I’d much rather be without it and stick with the grapes, which in turn were crunchy and sweet both to my utter delight but surprise. On the rare occasion whereupon I opt for a savoury for dessert – such as a cheese platter – I find the grapes to be nearing their sell-by-date: emaciated, browning and sour. As for the cheeses themselves: only two on offer. One was similar to a blue cheese, a hard rind and a smoky flavour; the other was creamier and contained chillis. I am admittedly very inexperienced when it comes to eating chillis, but from the reports of my friends who have had specimens of large jalapeños and even the formidable naga, the little slithers amongst this cheese were very mild in flavour in comparison. My idea of a cheese platter is something which contains at least three cheeses and three different kinds of biscuit, the latter of which this board did: all grain crackers, a couple with nuts, one with seeds and two with dried cranberries I believe, each respectively adding its own little compliment or combat to the flavours of their accompaniments.
And while the menus stipulate that Nikki would be in receipt of a variety of ice creams and sorbets, she basically got a neapolitan sundae with a strawberry garnish (see pictured) Call me pedantic, but I am sure a variety means a lot more than three scoops. Judging by the sweetness compared to the other two flavours, the vanilla was definitely the sorbet in this dish.
So, would I recommend this fine establishment on Poole High Street as a good example of Italian dining? Yes I would, even though I feel as though I have said so little positive about it in this review. I merely advise readers to specify specify SPECIFY the size of the dish you would like while the waiting staff are taking the order. I might seem like a hypocrite for saying it, but – and I know from experience – they are not psychic, unfortunately.