Review – Alcove
Choosing where to go when you want a fairly high end meal out in the Hove area leaves you with many choices. Ginger Man, Little Fish Market, Hove Place and Hove Kitchen immediately spring to mind. However, having visited all those in the past year or so, we decided to venture to a place we hadn’t visited before, hence our mid November trip to Alcove at Seven Dials.
Formerly of Brunswick Street West, Alcove made the move to the wonderful Dials area early this Autumn. Personally, it’s not a restaurant that has been on my radar but after taking a look at their French tinged gastro-esque menu, I was enticed enough to pick up the phone and make a booking. Starting with a post work G&T at The Cow, we were swept along in howling winds toward the restaurant.
The background to Alcove is slightly blurred. Previously known as The Medicine Chest and operating out of the aforementioned space in the Brunswick area of Hove, I’m unsure whether The Medicine Chest shut down or was rebranded to Alcove? Does it really matter? No, probably not. However, it would be nice to know a bit more about the backstory and why the team decided to take over the restaurant where Sam’s used to stand at Seven Dials.
Anyway, I digress. Arriving at Alcove at 8pm, I was surprised to see such a vast space so poorly used. The wooden tables seemed awkwardly spread out across the floor space and the entire wooden floor/wooden table effect allowed for a dark and moody atmosphere. Not a place for those intimate, romantic dates it would seem. It was also very cold, as though no one had put the heating on. But more about this later.
The menu at Alcove is designed and run by Head Chef Sebastian Dupire, who has over 25 years experience and trained in the wealthy Le Tourquet area of Northern France. The menu is priced at £30 for 2 courses or £35 for 3 courses, each with a complimentary granité (iced palate cleanser to you and I).
Starting with a glass of the Italian Pinot Grigio (£5.75 for 175ml) to sip whilst browsing the menu, I had an inkling I already knew what I wanted from having a sneaky glance online earlier in the day. No specials were on offer so I plumbed straight into ordering the Crab Bisque – topped with pernod cream to start and the Broiled Monkfish Fillet – with crayfish tarragon beurre blanc and sunblushed tomato and baby spinach risotto for main.
And we waited. And we waited some more. A small round of complimentary bread and home made pesto was presented to us, very nice indeed, however by this point I was onto my second glass of wine and was absolutely ravenous. There’s only so much small talk you can make when your stomach is gurgling away like a sink being drained.
After approximately 45minutes from ordering, our starters were served.
I’m certainly no classically trained French chef, but there is no way in hell I would let a dish leave my kitchen looking like that. For one, it is incredibly poorly presented (I have a feeling our scatty waiter slopped it about carrying it the whole 5 yards from pass to table) and two, surely a bisque should be served in a deep, mug like bowl? Gripes aside, I took my spoon and swelled into the orange tinged soup.
Without the pernod cream, this dish wouldn’t have amounted to very much at all. The crab bisque itself wasn’t as smooth as I’d have hoped and I constantly had to subtly pick relics of shell, herbs and so forth out my teeth. Mmm, attractive. Swirling the pernod cream through my dish was its saviour as the aniseed and cream element mellowed out the overtly herb and seafood sensation coming from the bisque. All in all, a bit of a bizarre starter and certainly not one to wait three quarters of an hour for.
Expectations were sinking and fast. As more people finished their earlier evenings meals and exited the draughty restaurant, the temperature dropped even further. The chill factor wasn’t helped by a trip to the ladies loo, which was practically Arctic. A very unpleasant experience.
Deciding against a further glass of wine, I stuck to water and we awaited service of what we thoughts would be our main dishes. Instead we were brought a rather peculiar granité.
This would have been deliciously appropriate had it been a milder temperature in the restaurant. However, the last thing I fancied doing was sucking on some sweetened ice. Sloshing mine about and making the most of the palate cleansing experience, I again found the whole idea slightly bizarre. How I longed for a full and decent plate of food by this point.
Of course, there was another 45 minute wait for our main course. Our waiter informed us there was “a problem in the kitchen” and “a chef is off sick”. Excellent. Baring in mind it was now getting on for 21.45 and we had already been there for an hour and 45 minutes, I rejoiced inside upon seeing our slapdash waiter steaming over to our table with two plates of food and prayed it would be the high caliber French inspired gastro food I’d been promised.
And do you know what dear reader? Surprisingly, the monkfish and risotto dish wasn’t bad at all.
The broiled monkfish was golden tinged, well cooked and held firm with a slightly meaty texture as it adorned a delightfully gooey risotto. Laced with fresh wilts of spinach and sweet sun-blushed tomato and copious amounts of cheese, the risotto was very enjoyable and a good base for this dish.
The monkfish and risotto was surrounded by a well executed, rich and silky, tarragon infused beurre blanc sauce that had morsels of crayfish swimming in it. I loved the use of the crayfish over any other seafood and felt the tiny chunks of pink gave a lovely colouring to the dish.
Overall, this plate of food was a pleasurable dining experience and I only wish I hadn’t been so hungry and taken more time to savour this French concoction. The only thing that put me off the main course was whilst performing a check back, our waiter crouched down beside me, telling me of his love for mixology and showed me his tattoos! I appreciate enthusiasm, but seriously? I’m paying approximately £50 a head for this experience and I do not want to see parts of your body whilst trying to enjoy my meal!
By ten past 10pm, I was ready to go home. However my friend lured me into staying for a pudding, my cries of “but what if we have to wait again!?” falling on deaf ears. Opting for the Trio of Creme Brûlée – raspberry, hazelnut and traditional I hesitantly ordered along with another water.
Well presented in three delicate mini ramekins, the creme brûlées certainly looked the part, however I feel were served far too cold and hadn’t been brought up to room temperature at all. A slight over-dose on the burnt sugar on top also meant each pudding was slightly bitter and this made for a disappointing dessert.
By now it was nearly 11pm. Three hours of painful dining later, we were finally able to leave, but not after having to send the bill back to be corrected and I soon learnt that service charge “will be added to your bill” and wasn’t at my discretion. Appalling.
Many apologies were made about the timings on our departure , however for me, it was a case of too little too late. Had the expectation been set at the start of our evening that there would be an exceptionally long wait in-between courses, we might have been slightly more accepting. But three hours of sitting in a cold restaurant? No thank you.
Alcove lacks atmosphere and warmth and needs to seriously rethink their level of customer service. Above all else, Alcove serves lacklustre and disappointing food at a higher price than necessary. Given a choice again, I would avoid Alcove and head to one of Brighton and Hove’s well respected restaurants as mentioned in the first paragraph of this review.
Please note that Alcove has since closed as of April 2014.