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Gary Marshall

a hard couple of days in the smoke

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i was in London last week and had a very interesting couple of foodie trips. First stop, lunch at Club Gascon.

I went when it first opened on the back of AA Gill's punchy write up but unfortunately the staff didn't explain the tapas-esque ordering well and my female client blanched at the mere mention of 7 courses! but i could see the potential in the few dishes we did manage, a later christmas foie gras menu confirmed this, so i returned with great expectation.

We had the set menu, with wine (mainly country wines) which was £55 . a spiced melon ball atop a shot of melon juice kicked off proceedings, followed by the usual foie gras starter, then another course, served in a glass that for the life of me i cannot remember what it was! fish was john dory served with a fine mirepoix then a roasted quail. Desert was a cheese/honey concoction. All good well executed and imaginative.

Dinner at the Ivy was a savoyarde tart to start, roast poulet des landes and sticky toffee pudding. Chicken is an excellent dish, roasted breast, boned and stuffed thigh served with a truffle jus. We did also sample the shepherds pie which i'll have next time as it was outstanding. I thought there's little that can be done to the humble pie but this was way better than expectations.

A hungover friday saw locanda locatelli liven up the morning with the offer of a table ( i called the day before and asked to be on the waiting list).

We were the first in as we wanted to try and catch a reasonable timed train back to York and were well looked after by the attentive friendly staff, the room had a nice feel to it even when empty. Georgio was around and very chatty, showing us his mountains of truffles and telling us tales of collecting 'moon rocks' with his grandad in alba as a kid!

The menu is quite understated and looks like refined versions of traditional dishes.

I had broad beans and pecorino cheese salad, a refeshing light dressed salad with beans and a pecorino crisp atop.

pasta course was ricotta parcels with aubergine and walnuts with a dollop of tomato sauce on top, all divine.

main course was roast rabbit with parma ham and polenta, again simple, top ingredients , perfectly cooked.

Desert was something else, feeling the pace i had a light dish the strawberry and mango lasagne, perfect stripes of 5mm thick fruit layered and glazed on top served as a thick slice with milk choc ice cream and a violet sorbet i think, an amazing looking dish.

wine was a perfectly reasonable panizzi vernaccia di san gimignano. for two with aperitfs, digestives, coffee bill came to £140 not cheap but worth every penny. My meal of the year and i'd definately go back (indeed i am, booked it already!)


you don't win friends with salad

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Interesting - it does show that a). we all have a equally valid difference of opinion as what what is deemed 'good' and b). possibly the standard of food varies depending on conditions (not least of the consumer! i.e he or she has a hangover, a very 'hot' date, is in the mood, is not in the mood etc).

Whilst I agree wholeheartedly that The Ivy is exceptional for non-pretentious food (if you can get in) I will say that when I went to Locanda Locatelli a couple of weeks ago here are my comments::

First the tables are far too close together. It's truly memorable cliche) if you want someone blowing smoke up your nostril (believe me, you cannot forget that). Why do these very ignorant, selfish, morons insist on smoking their cancer sticks in a way that the person at the next table has to inhale their smoke whilst eating. My partner could not taste the subtle flavours of the food thanks to this 'dolly bird' (yes, it was a woman, the man was OK, I'm not being sexist but this type of woman doesn't care about anything but herself).

Secondly, the menu: not very adventurous (really!), not very Italian (who heard of an all-encompassing Italian menu, as this one claims to be, without a veal dish?) and the very same every day.

Thirdly, the food: I suppose it was very good. Certainly very fancy, colourful, pretty etc etc but what about the flavours?

What it definately was NOT was Italian! Methinks Sig Locatelli learned too much at the Tour D'Argent. This was French and others do the subtle flavours MUCH better (Raymond Blanc, Ramsay, the Roux's etc).

Amongst other dishes I had the Linguine with lobster. What lobster? A few crumbs and that's it and the sauce was watery (alla most Italian restaurants outside of Italy), I had the same dish at Metro Pizza and it was amazing, so much flavour, cooked just right and very similar to the exact same dish I had in Santa Margerita. I'm sorry but an Italian Italian would not eat this.

Taken as a good restaurant the food was well-prepared and seasoned and the service, whilst slow, was excellent. Taken as a great restaurant - not-so-good, taken as an Italian restaurant - not even close.

Madonna can have it. Sorry Gary, but that was my observation, for what it's worth (i.e. nada). :biggrin:

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Signore Pumpkino - I'm a bit confused by your comment that the Locanda wasn't Italian. The meal Gary ate seemed quite Italian. What exactly do you mean by that comment and why do you think an Italian restaurant must have veal on the menu? Veal isn't typical in every region of Italy.

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peter,

i agree the conditions of the visit can make a big difference, i went to ramsay's in the evening and again the next day at lunch for my birthday and it could have been two different restaurants, we were certainly going to L L 'in the mood' and with high expectations.

with regard to flavours i thought it hit the mark, very little in the way of messing about with the ingredients just simply cooked and prepared.

I can't comment on the italian-ness of the place, having only spent 3 weeks in italy but there were certainly similar dishes on the menu i'd enjoyed there, the lobster spaghetti & wild boar tagliatelle for example. There also seemed to be plenty of italians in there too eating with gusto!

we'll have to see what the return visit brings!


you don't win friends with salad

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Steve,

First of all having lived and travelled all over Italy (Milano, Rimini, Roma, Torino, Venezia, Bologna, Napoli, Palermo etc) and having had the pleasue (!) of marrying one (from Ivrea in Piemonte) I have rarely seen an Italian menu without some kind of veal dish but that is not the point, the point is that this meal was definately NOT as you would get in Italy. It may sound Italian, it may have an Italian chef, it may smell Italian but on my daughter's life this meal was NOT Italian in any way. Maybe that's my problem, THAT is what I was expecting and that is NOT what I got ergo I didn't like it. Maybe (just maybe) if I was going expecting an English/Italian/quasi-French meal I would have been better prepared and may have liked it. IMHO there are very, very few restaurants World Wide that serve Italian food AS YOU WOULD GET IT IN ITALY and that's what I like - hey, everybody's different.

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yes but even in Italy you don't necessarily get that - I have just returned from holiday there and ate at some very good high end restaurants - Miramonti L'altro - and there is definitely some cross-pollination with French food (admittedly the chef there is French) - only at a lower level do you get more what I (and maybe you) would call 'real' italian food. Although wherever you go the pasta is just SO much better than anywhere else.

It always puzzled me that the River Cafe could be voted the best Italian restaurant in the world (by the NYT I think) - I sort of think that could only be a restaurant in Italy..... :hmmm:


Gav

"A man tired of London..should move to Essex!"

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Gavin,

I couldn't have said it better myself. Yes, you've got it. In regards to 'fancy' restaurants - they are not for Italians, they're for Americans (fascitious joke - sorry). But serioously that's the mistake a lot of people make with Italian restaurants. On a Sunday the Italians get in their cars and dirve out to some real rat bag place and eat for 4 hours! And we're talking all levels of Italians, that's the thing to do and that's why they have problems in France as they do the same thing there and are dissappointed (French food is marvellous but you have to pay for it).

It's really a different World. So-much-so that the Italians think that's it's halarious that our expensive restaurants serve Pollenta. You only get that in the hills in really rustic and cheap restaurants! And did you know that Italians only drink beer with their Pizza and not wine (yes, I know, I've had fights with them on this - I ask them what you drink with cheese, tomatoes and bread - wine! So what's pizza if it's not cheese, bread (dough) and tomatoes!).

AA Gill said it best, he said that the difference is so great that tourists are going to Italy and complaining that they couldn't get Italian food!! :biggrin:

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AA Gill said it best, he said ...

OK Peter, you got me there :laugh: You really had me believing you were being serious until you said that. But of course no-one could be serious in saying that AA Gill said anything best :laugh:

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Macrosan,

Very good.

I know that AA Gill does have many faults but when he talks Italian he talks Italian - really.

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my mother is italian, from liguria, and an enthusiastic and talented home cook dedicated to the food of her heritage. i can honestly say she's never cooked us a veal dish in her life.

(brains, yes. but that's another story.)

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On a more serious note, I think we're back on the trail of "ethnic authenticity" here, that elusive and probably non-existent and irrelevant quality that some people seem to prize so highly.

I have been to Babbo in New York four times now, and it is my favourite restaurant in the world. Everyone (including the chef) says it's Italian, and I don't think it is within my own perception of what Italian food is. Does that matter to me ? Absolutely not, I still think the food is wonderful. Does it matter to Mario Battali ? Absolutely not, he has a delightfully happy customer who admires his food. So does it matter whether Babbo is an "Italian restaurant" or not ? Well only to first-timers who finish up disappointed with their visit because they expected Escalope Milanese, or whatever.

Personally, I think AAGill's comment is naive. Of course there is a difference between Italian food served in Italy and Italian food served in England. In fact there is a difference between Italian food served in Sorrento and Italian food served in Naples. Even if the dishes are ostensibly identical, the cooking methods differ. If there is any meaning to the concept of "a national food" it is to do with the general style of cooking, commonly used ingredients, and a few specific "famous" dishes. I guess my summary for Italy (first thoughts, not intended to be comprehensive) would be :

General style: Vegetables cooked al dente, light sauces, simple cooking methods

Common ingredients: Olive oil, tomatoes, olives, veal, pasta, fish

Famous dishes: Escalope of veal, osso buco, pizza, pasta

I eat at three local Italian restaurants, on average twice a week between them. They are all quite different. Any one of them would remind you of a restaurant you had eaten at somewhere in Italy.

On my holiday in Sorrento last month I had a meal in my hotel which reminded me of an excellent French restaurant in Brussels. I also ate in an Italian restaurant where the meal reminded me of a second-rate American restaurant in Croydon.

What price "authenticity" ?

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Point taken, but up to a point only. Do you call Amatriciana, Carbonara or Due Formaggi light sauces? Your description of Italian food was very naive.

I also feel that you will get a similar standard of food throughout Italy (unless you go to tourist hotels or tourist restaurants where they cut corners as they think, correctly I feel, that tourists don't know the difference).

I, for one, like, no LOVE, Italian food as cooked all over Italy for Italians. That's my preference and for that I do not think AA Gill's comment was naive, he was just stating a fact.

Authenticity is not the point, the cuisine I love is.

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Macrosan - I think that when a chef calls his restaurants "Italian," among other things, he means that the general cooking strategy he practices is Italian in nature. For example, to gently saute a loin of lamb so it creates a small amount of gravy would be an Italian cooking strategy. To roast it and then to deglaze the pan over a hot flame with some type of stock, butter and wine would be a French strategy. Or, a ragu of veal and vegetables served atop some pappardele or polenta might be Italian. But a veal stew with some noodles on the side might be French. I'm just making these simple and very generalized examples but, there is more to making a meal Italian than putting parmegian cheese on top of meat. And when I go to Babbo, I recognize the approach as Italian and not French.

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Yeah, Steve, I see that. Incidentally, I wouldn't describe Babbo as French either. And don't get me wrong, I'm not complaining about Battali's absolute right to call his cooking Italian. He sure is more likely to be correct than I am :wink: The point I was making was in response to the AAGill-type comment that PeterPumkino quoted, which is to do with a layman's perception of what constitutes a national cuisine.

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Absolutely right Steve, my thoughts entirely.

AA Gill has a lot of faults but he is NOT a layman. You may not agree with him (that's your right) but you have to agree that he does eat for a living and has been to many, many restaurants - I happen to agree with him when it comes to Italian restaurants, cooked by Italians in Italy!!!!

A story: I was at Rome airport with my 14 year old American daughter. As we both like Fritto Misto and we were in a salf-service restaurant we went to the counter where fritto misto was being fried. The mini-chef asked us to wait and then threw out the remains of the fritto that he had been using and made us wait until he did a fresh batch. The food he had just fried was, in my mind, perfectably acceptable (it had been fried about 7 minutes previously) but no, we had to wait !! THAT'S the difference and that happened at a cheap, self-service airport cafeteria - try that at JFK and see what happens! That's Italian food, cooked in Italy, by Italians for Italians. Nothing less will do.

OK?

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Your description of Italian food was very naive.

I'm sorry, but this conversation is beginning to drive me a little mad :shock:

Peter, your rather stringent version of Italian food is hampered by being just as over-generalised (a description I prefer to 'naive') as Macrosan's (not entirely unreasonable, if rather Southern) summary. Veal would look very out of place on many Venetian menus for example, whereas polenta wouldn't, however far from rustic and cheap the restaurant might be. And it's obviously not true that you 'get a similar standard of food throughout Italy'. There are superb restaurants and bad ones there, like most other places. I assume what you mean is that the average restaurant in Italy offers a better level of cooking than the average (Italian?) restaurant in the UK.

What you are touching on, I think, is a version of 'authentic Italian' that neatly packages the widespread conservatism found in much of Italy, which finds expression in a much greater degree of uniformity than is apparent in, say, London or New York. When we say Italians dress well, we mean they all dress according to a very rigorous and unvaried version of 'good taste'. (I know Italians who dress in torn jeans and leather jackets in London, but are never out of well-cut MaxMara at home. Alessandro dell'Acqua, a young Italian designer, is based in Milan but hardly sells any clothes over there.) Similarly, when you recite the 'rules' of Italian eating (beer, not wine with pizza), you're invoking a whole tradition of codes part of whose attraction is the ease with which they define people as insiders or outsiders.

I once had a meal at Cracco-Peck in Milan (no veal on the menu that day, although there were some very interesting Chinese vegetables). We got chatting to the charming waiters, several of whom had just come over from Isola in Knightsbridge. They raved about the wine-by-the-glass system, but scorned Bruno Loubet for not being Italian: I mean, they said by way of grotesque illustration, he put balsamic vinegar with taleggio! No! I said in horror, and made a mental note.

We non-Italians love these rules (I know I do) because they're so easy to learn, and you can quickly become (95%) confident you're doing the right thing and snigger at people who aren't. Your reference to "Italian" disdain for tourists (who 'don't know the difference') and Americans (who go to high-end restaurants, poor misguided fools) is related to this, being part of the way that conservative Italian culture is commoditised for people like you and me, which by positioning it as something we get and the masses of our fellow countrymen don't, but keeping us constantly aware we can never fully own it, makes it the perfect luxury/aspirational good. Of course, what we should be feeling is rather sympathy with the innocent and poorly-treated tourists.

Pizza Metro (with you on this: my favourite Italian restaurant in London) sells its Italian-ness as forcefully as its pizzas, with a heightened performativity that sometimes makes me think of Ian Holm's restaurant in Big Night. It's both very genuine and utterly hyper-real.

Just as I know Italians who dress differently outside their home town, I know several who, in London, will quietly down a cappuccino after a meal, which they'd never do at home. Does that mean they're not Italian? No, it just means they're not being "Italian". It turns out that following the rules can be an act of conscious self-representation on their part too, rather than 'natural' behaviour.

Just as there are Italian designers who, um, think different (sorry for the mixed reference there), there are plenty of good restaurants in Italy that don't conform to the 'rules'. This doesn't stop them being Italian. It just stops them being 'Italian'. This doesn't mean they're not authentic; it just means that Italy is less of a country in aspic than some of the people who most romanticise it would like it to be.

As for Gill, the point of his remark was, as ever, to sound snotty and provocative and clever; I think he managed, as ever, one out of three.

Whoops, this post got a bit out of hand. Sorry :unsure:

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I have one question only and then i'll discontinue this conversation as it's obvious that no-one has any real idea as to what I'm taking about (although it's nice to see my liking for Mezzo Pizza being ackowledged).

Has any of the 'great posts' and 'applause' people actually lived in Italy (not in an American military camp or as a student with Americans and Eurepeans but actually lived with Italians) - ha! I thought not. :hmmm:

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I have one question only and then i'll discontinue this conversation as it's obvious that no-one has any real idea as to what I'm taking about (although it's nice to see my liking for  Mezzo Pizza being ackowledged).

Has any of the 'great posts' and 'applause' people actually lived in Italy (not in an American military camp or as a student with Americans and Eurepeans but actually lived with Italians) - ha! I thought not. :hmmm:

Don't be such a pompous twat Peter.

S

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Has any of the 'great posts' and 'applause' people actually lived in Italy (not in an American military camp or as a student with Americans and Eurepeans but actually lived with Italians) - ha! I thought not. :hmmm:

Peter, I promise you - hand on heart - that I have never lived in an American military camp. Anywhere. :laugh::laugh:

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I have one question only and then i'll discontinue this conversation as it's obvious that no-one has any real idea as to what I'm taking about

Oh dear, Peter, I'd have thought that a very good reason for continuing the conversation would be that you don't think we understand what you're talking about.

At least now we know you're not a Plotnickist.

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