S Pellegrino Live in Italian: James Lowe’s menu a smash hit at Harvey Nichols
For all of July, the Fifth Floor Bar of Harvey Nichols will be transformed into an Italian oasis, complete with rustic wooden tables, miniature citrus plants, olive trees and more than a little Mediterranean hospitality. The Italian Supper Club provides meals throughout the day (proving to be very popular doing so), but on Tuesday nights the real magic happens as one of the capital’s top chefs is invited to cook a bespoke Italian banquet. This week, the honour falls to James Lowe, a chef who has seen his star rise since opening his restaurant, Lyle’s, in Shoreditch this May, which placed in the top 100 of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants event in June.
So it’s with high hopes that we sit down to start with Tomatoes, and Lardo on Sourdough. Lowe is a big fan of seasonality and using ingredients at their peak, and it shows. The tomatoes are so delightfully sweet and fragrant that they could only have been harvested in mid-summer. The sourdough is well-toasted, and its crisp texture is the perfect platform for sheets of virtually translucent lardo and a fruity olive oil. Lyle’s brought their own choice of artisan wines, and the Catarratto 2015 from Nino Barraco is a real winner. It’s soft, clean and lingers beautifully with a palette of summer fruits.
Peas, Stracciatella and Borage is a wonderfully photogenic little medley of herby shoots, sweet peas, ticklemore cheeses and borage oil. It’s more than just a great looking dish though: Lowe is the type of chef who is exceptionally deliberate in his use of ingredients, and it’s rare to ever find superfluous window-dressing. Here the edible flowers add a gentle, herby note that matches perfectly with the sweetness of the peas which are at their verdant, summery best. It’s paired with a remarkably clean Roero Arneis 2015 Valfaccenda, which is pleasing if perhaps a little unadventurous.
Sea Trout, Whey Butter and Samphire follows, its butter sauce remarkably rich and silky, lending the perfectly cooked fish a thoroughly indulgent texture and taste. Samphire adds a distinctly salty edge that works well with the creaminess of the whey, but it’s the gooseberries, which were unmentioned on the menu, that really put everything into balance. These tart little spheres lend some much-needed acidity, keeping the dish as fresh and lively as the rest of the meal. A Rosato 2015 Podere Santa Maria is an ideal match with just enough weight to stand up to the trout and samphire without overpowering the more delicate butter.
The Turbot, Girolles and Wild Fennel adopts the same trend: clean, simple flavours that work perfectly in unison. In this case, the dish consists of just two elements, fish and mushrooms, with the fennel coming in the form of pollen used to season the girolles. It’s always refreshing to see something other than garlic and butter added to mushrooms, and the pretty little shards of pollen here add a spike of anise that lifts the entire dish. A 2012 Brazan from I Clivi is full of minerality and saline, with just a nose of fruitiness at the edges, making it the perfect foil for the girolles.
Dessert is a small bowl of Loganberries, Yoghurt and Unripe, Fermented Blackcurrants. The unusual choice of fruit has many people talking, as loganberries are especially rare in the capital due to the difficulty in transporting these delicate berries. They contrast well with the tang of the yoghurt, but it’s the small veins of honey that lurk within that really sets the dish apart, their floral sweetness tying the whole thing together.
As banquets go, this one is decidedly light and airy. Eschewing the usual Italian staples in favour of fresh vegetables and foraged ingredients, and serving another piece of fish for what would more conventionally be the meat course, the meal is imbued with the chef’s own distinct tastes and styles. That’s what makes these events so fantastic: every meal has a unique interpretation of the same brief.
Photos: Daniel Masters
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.