9 December 2008
By Douglas Blyde
I AM A fanatic of the leisurely lunch. Meals for me provide the most satisfying memories. My more decadently inclined have run for over ten hours. Whilst one particular meat marathon ended in blurred vision, and a lethargic shuffle home, the majority conclude gently - even elegantly. Plenty of H2O, a balanced, engaging menu and wine made by artisans rather than accountants generally prevent exhaustion and calamity!
Courtesy of 'Astoria', a market conscious north Italian producer, I was recently invited to 'Zafferano' (meaning saffron) a fêted Italian in Knightsbridge. Also from the north of the peninsula, chef Giorgio Locatelli landed his first Michelin star here in the mid 90's, before moving to pastures new with the world renowned 'Locanda Locatelli'.
About 20 wine and food writers and celebrated culinary professionals, including Alberico Penati (formerly of 'Harry's Bar' and now at the helm of 'Aspinals') gathered around a sturdy table within the restaurant's bottle lined, brick vaults. Our aim: to discover more about the liquid behind the sexily packaged bottles.
With bresaola, a ruddy, air-dried beef, sliced thinly with a piped fringe of goat's cheese mousse and raucously peppery rocket, we drunk the 'Lounge Cuvée'. Believe it or not, this surprisingly rich, but mineral tingled, green hued Prosecco intended to lure the younger generation away from big brand beer and sugary alcops, even has its own soundtrack. A tailored composition of acid jazz was put in our goodie bags for later evaluation…
With radicchio risotto from Treviso, we tasted 'Mina', a simple, but strident, densely aromatic blend of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and the local speciality, 'Incrocio Manzoni'. The rice was - in a good way - the texture of mouse droppings and the purple chicory crisp and refreshingly bitter. The wine added supple, pineapple moisture.
The highlight however was the roast rack of veal, supplied by 'Allen's', Mayfair's oldest and most revered butcher. Expertly carved at table and pink centred, it was classily complemented by the sleek, caramel, spice and cassis scented 'Croder', which was almost opaque. A blend of Bordeaux grapes alongside a little local, the gentle texture of the tannins melted alongside the veritable baby calf. The wine was almost sobering proof that the Prosecco region, from where all the bottles were produced, offers much more than bubbles.
After a lush mandarin sorbet with frozen mint, we sampled the house's dark crimson coloured sweetie, made from raisened grapes. 'Fervo' was wholesomely rustic: grapey with notes of sweet chestnuts, walnut husks and a trace of tartness. Finally tea coloured, oak aged grappa bevelled another long lunch.
To find your local stockist of Astoria wines, please contact 'Alivini': 020 8220 2526.
Douglas authors the acclaimed blog 'intoxicatingprose.co.uk'
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