Ollie Dabbous kicks off S Pellegrino Live in Italian seriesCultureFood & DrinksRestaurant & bar reviews
The bustle of Venice, the passion of Rome, the radiance of the Amalfi Coast, Italy in summertime is nothing less than a paradise, but what to do when you’re stuck in drizzly London? Why, escape for a few hours with some great food of course. At least, that’s S Pellegrino’s plan as they take over the roof terrace of Harvey Nichols from 10th July until 7th August. From 11am to 11pm every day, diners will be able to enjoy la dolce vita, courtesy of the Italian Supper Club. The whole roof terrace has been transformed into an elegant al fresco eating area that practically begs you to take a load off and be whisked away. Perhaps most excitingly of all, every Tuesday they’ll be inviting one of London’s immensely talented chefs in to cook a unique, Italian-inspired banquet.
This week, the event opens with the ever-acclaimed Ollie Dabbous, and with Buffalo Milk Ricotta with Cipollini Onions, Crushed Sicilian Pistachios, Amalfi Lemon and Nepitella. Serving the onion finely sliced and raw raises some eyebrows at first, but it forms a great sweet-and-sour contrast with the pistachio praline that lurks in the middle of a silky mound of ricotta. The kick of lemon is there but it’s appropriately faint, a pleasingly subdued note in the greater symphony of flavour, rather than the dominating force it so often becomes. Its vivid, playful flavours are complimented by an Etna Bianco Graci 2014, whose crisp acidity works well against the praline.
Salmon Crudo with Chioggia Beetroot and Marigold Shoots soon follows. The shoots are a revelation, their refreshing citrus zing keeping the whole dish feeling as light as air. They work especially well with the more delicate variety of beetroot spiralised in a tangled web above the fish. We’d happily eat a simply dressed salad of the two. The salmon nestled beneath is the perfect example of why Dabbous’ attention to detail make him so highly regarded as a chef. Eschewing the usual razor-thin slices associated with crudo, the small cubes he opts for instead are robust enough to hold their own against the velvety yoghurt, but still delicate enough not to overpower the dish. A Kerner Isarco 2014 is the wine of the evening, its cool minerality and gentle hints of citrus fruits are a perfect match for the fish.
Charred Farinata, Grilled Spring Lamb and Crushed Green Herbs: “It makes you happy to be alive” a fellow guest extols, and it’s hard to disagree. The gorgeous Romney Marsh lamb is cooked to utter perfection, its vivid pink core and supreme tenderness winning it praise from around the table. The farinata initially seems somewhat superfluous, besides providing an interesting textural contrast and making the dish highly photogenic, but it grows on us. A comfortingly simple crisp, it assumes the unglamorous role of preventing the dish from becoming too rich – a task it performs admirably. The Cos Cersauolo 2013 is a somewhat bold choice, a crisp, berry laden red that is often served with white meat or tomato-heavy dishes. Rather than attempting to match the heavy-punching power of the lamb blow for blow, it takes a more subtle, complementary approach that simply works. As with the farinata, anything heavier and the dish would verge on bloated.
Wild Strawberry Tartlet, Mascarpone Cream is beautifully light, all crisp pastry and cream as delicate as silk. Wild strawberries are prepared simply and are unglazed, adding the slightest hint of acidity to contrast the rich cream. The result is a dish that’s not especially sweet for a dessert, but works all the better for it. Dabbous is a master at this, subverting expectations and allowing ingredients to work to their own natural strengths. The wine is again a riskier choice, a Terre Nerre Etna Rosso 2014. There is something a little non-committal about it: unlike the other glasses from this evening, it doesn’t feel like a pairing. Something sweeter to contrast the tart would have worked better. Lambrusco is going through its own renaissance right now and would have been a better match. Really though, we’re nitpicking. This red is famed for its versatility, and it certainly doesn’t offend here.
Few events manage to achieve their brief as well as the S Pellegrino Live in Italian banquet has on its opening night. Its menu reads, and tastes, exactly as you would expect from an Ollie Dabbous offering, but it’s also unmistakably and deliciously Italian. Supremely talented chefs in a beautiful space, cooking great Italian food with plenty of room for creativity? It’s just as good as it sounds.
For further information about the S Pellegrino Live in Italian Food Festival, Fifth Floor Harvey Nichols, 109-125 Knightsbridge London SW1X 7RJ, or to book, call 020 7235 5250 or visit here.