I have probably never eaten at Alba before despite how the restaurant is practically an institution. If I did it might have been a long time ago since I don’t have any memories of it. In any case, it’s really hard to eat here without a reservation, more so when you go on a special occasion.
We were lucky enough to get a table as walk-in’s on Mother’s Day some weeks ago, and that’s a testament to the popularity of this spot, if not the fact that the restaurant has been around for six decades. Clearly it’s doing something right eh?
Founded by Señor Anastacio de Alba of Avila, Spain, and now being co-managed by his son Chef Miguel, Alba offers traditional Spanish favourites in a restaurant that exudes an old-world coziness. Drop lights illuminate every table, as well as the wooden walls and panels. The addition of snaking vines in some places plus those Spanish-themed paintings and murals create a vibe I love. It almost makes you feel like you’re eating at a restaurant in Barcelona.
They start you out with some warm rolls and butter for appetizers, and if you take too long a time to decide on the food you want to order (since there are plenty of choices) you can ask for a second serving.
The first dish to come out was one of my favourites, just because I like eggplant. The Berenjenas al Horno (Php 250) is a creamy appetizer of baked eggplants with anchovies and three kinds of cheese on top. Every spoonful is an oozing cheesy bite of soft eggplant and savoury sensations. I enjoyed it so much I started eating it in earnest and forgot to take photos of what the inside of the casserole looks like! Oops!
We also ordered some Ensalada Catalunia (Php 220) to begin the meal in the “healthy way”. Despite it not being the most impressive-looking salad I have ever laid eyes on, the slices of Jamon Serrano (Spanish cured ham) and Parmesan, alongside the garlic herb dressing, really give this a nice punch of savoury-salty flavour.
I like how the lettuce and carrots are shredded to a size that makes eating salad so easy, because we all know how dainty it looks to have to open your mouth wide to eat large salad leaves!
At this point our main dishes started getting served. The Alba Pollo Al Ajillo (Php 350) was admittedly quite small, and perhaps it was also the dish that didn’t feel particularly special for me. It’s basically boneless chicken in a lightly spicy garlic-infused oil.
Up next is the Espaguetis de la Casa (Php 290), which is quite straightforward actually. Basically it is spaghetti topped with homemade tomato sauce and chopped chorizo de Bilbao. A sprinkling of cheese completes this dish. I loved picking the pieces of chorizo.
The Lapu Lapu en Salsa Verde (Php 580) was quite a tiny serving for the price in my opinion. However underneath that colourful array of shrimp, clams, eggs, and veggies, are chunks of fresh and delicious lapu lapu fish. That light cream sauce smells wonderful. This was one of my favourites simply because I like seafood dishes done right, but I still wish there were more. 😚
Now we get to the main star of the meal. Alba is pretty well known for paella, and of course we had to order a paella that was a little more “unusual”. No seafood, instead we got lamb. The Paella de Cordero (Php 680) is as pretty as can be, served right inside the paellera pan. Apart from juicy bits of lamb, the paella is flavoured with mushrooms and peppers. Pesto gives the rice that greenish hue, and on the top is some aioli sauce to add a little garlic note.
The rice is a sticky texture that is a little bit oily because of the pesto, and I imagine also because of the lamb broth it was cooked in. But at the same time it was nice and fluffy too.
I do think the best bit about paella is the layer of crisp toasted rice on the bottom, and it was up to that point where we polished this paella off. Not a grain of rice was left on that pan. Not one, I tell you!
After eating so much rich food, it felt natural to get something sweet at the end of the meal. The Canonigo (Php 150 per slice & Php 900 whole) is a fluffy sweet meringue cake that literally melts into nothing in your mouth. The first bite gives you this squishy feeling that I can only describe as similar to how soap suds feel. It’s that airy and soft. My Dad joked that senior citizens with no teeth would love this dessert! 😝
The cake slice sits on top of some orange-infused slightly-thinned condensed milk, if I am not mistaken. It makes the dessert a little too sweet for me to finish on my own, but I think that orange brings a nice touch, not to mention a great scent!
Here’s the thing: I feel a bit torn about this restaurant. It’s not necessarily the best Spanish restaurant I’ve ever eaten in, but it has inspired me to try cooking Spanish cuisine at home– something I’ve never tried. Also, if there’s one thing I really commend Alba for, it’s their staff. Always attentive, alert, and very accommodating.
Even though some dishes here stood out more than others to me, and I felt some of the serving sizes were small for the price, the fact that it has inspired me is quite a big deal. Overall Alba is still a good place to dine in. Alba also offer lunch and dinner buffets that give you a chance to try out many of their dishes for Php 700+ per person. I’m intrigued.
Alba Restaurante Español
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