S Pellegrino Live in Italian: Alyn Williams concludes the series with delicious range at Harvey Nichols
Not even the threat of torrential downpours could dampen the mood at the last S Pellegrino Live in Italian banquet. With the terrace well- covered and the heat lamps out, revellers braved the drizzle of British summer to be transported far away into the beauty of Italy, courtesy of a meal by the acclaimed chef Alyn Williams of Alyn Williams at The Westbury. Each week a different chef interpreted the brief of an Italian feast according to their own style, and there is particular interest of how Williams will translate his own British cuisine into the food of the Mediterranean.
Honey Foccacia, Coppa and San Marzano Tomatoes provides a summery start to the meal, the sweet bread a great base for the tang of tomato and the saltiness of the coppa. It’s a stunning beurre noisette that has everyone talking, though: whipped until feather light, it brings a touch of elegance that lifts the foccacia into something far greater than a simple appetiser. Ripples of excitement pass through the tables – if the bread is this good, how amazing is the rest going to be?
Vitello Tonnato with Summer Truffle, Tarragon and Sweet Corn does nothing to dispel the giddy atmosphere. Williams jokes that what we have before us is probably the poshest tuna mayonnaise around, and that’s certainly what the sunshine-bright studs of sweet corn bring to mind. Good cooking so often does this, though: taking familiar combinations and elevating them to a whole new level. Here the delicate earthiness of thinly sliced summer truffle is the perfect match for spiky tarragon and tender cubes of poached veal. A Gavi La Meirana 2014 is piercingly fresh, heavy with notes of lemon and apple. It’s a beautiful wine but almost too sharp for the relatively delicate dish it’s served with.
Sweet Onion and Laverbread Agnolotti, Smoked Eel, Onion Broth, and Fermented Ramson is a curious thing. The broth is deep and rich, it’s sweet onion complementing the meatiness of the smoked eel. The Agnolotti meanwhile is thoroughly unique and filled with what is essentially a sauce made from laverbread. The contrast between the two liquids is intriguing, as the considerably thinner soup helps enhance the luxurious creaminess of the laverbread. A Kerner Isarco 2014 is something special, its full bouquet of apple and citrus fruits hiding an almost nutty finish.
Slow Cooked Whole Cod, Creamy Rustic Polenta, Broad Beans, Black Olives and Amaretto with Pecorino has been baked in salt and brought out for the guests before being cracked open in the kitchen. It shows in the perfectly cooked flakes of fish that top a rich puck of polenta. A liberal hand with the Pecorino lent the grain a thoroughly indulgent touch, though the same cannot be said about the black olive and amaretto shards, which are applied far too lightly and barely discernible amongst the rest of the dish. A Terre Nere Etna Rosso 2014 is one of those sharp, full-bodied reds that acts as the perfect foil for creamy sauces and rich meats. Here, it cuts through the polenta’s indulgence with remarkable clarity.
Raspberries and Frozen Sweet Ricotta, with an S Pellegrino and Amalfi Lemon Sorbet is an ideally light conclusion to the meal. The tartness of the raspberry and lemons is a common combination with good reason, but it’s the crumbs of frozen sweet ricotta that really intrigue us. They add some much needed textural contrast and work beautifully to balance the sharpness of the raspberry. It’s the way they enhance the fruits’ flavour though, almost like a seasoning, that is most remarkable. An Auslese Kracher 2012 borders on the saccharine, but the sharpness of the lemon does cut through it quite admirably.
And with that, it’s over. A month of fine dining from some of the best chefs in the capital, all given the same brief but all having produced thoroughly different results. From the experimental to the downright traditional, these evenings have delivered some truly magical moments, not the least due to the exceptional hospitality of S Pellegrino and Harvey Nichols. What better way to finish it all off than with a classic menu from an inspired chef?
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.