Wednesday, 19 September 2007

Laid Back On The King's Road

Thursday night was an opportunity to renew some old acquaintances and meet some new people over a relaxed meal and wine/rice tasting on West London's über-trendy King's Road. For those of you not familiar with Chelsea's main thoroughfare, King's Road stretches from the home of the Sloane Rangers in the east down to my football club ground and beyond in the west. The event took place at an establishment I was not previously familiar with - L'Osteria dell'Arancio.

Traditionally, Italian restaurants have been classified as ristorante, trattoria or osteria. Whereas the 'upper' levels are essentially fine dining and brasserie, the osteria is the least formal of the three classes of eaterie - often little more than a gathering place that serves wine with some basic food. Not exactly a description that applies to L'Osteria dell'Arancio. Certainly an osteria in the sense of being relaxed, friendly and informal. But with a fantastic selection of Italian wines and, under the supervision of Head Chef Giuseppe De Gregorio, food of an excellent standard. Hardly surprising, as Giuseppe sources much of his produce from the Marche Region of Italy, where they really know how to eat. Oh, and one other fact that might lead you to expect good food... Giuseppe learnt his culinary trade with Giorgio Locatelli.
A very Italian style of eating - everyone packed closely together round the "family" table
We kicked off proceedings with some lovely arancini and fizzy aperitifs outside the restaurant as people began to congregate. I kept myself busy mingling with some familiar faces I'd met before and a few I hadn't. It was nice to finally meet Cooksister Jeanne and Johanna The Passionate Cook, both of whom I commmunicate with electronically on a regular basis. I recognised Celia Brooks Brown from the Borough Market Gastro Tour I attended not so long ago, and Walid of Trusted Places, who organised said tour, who was also present at my Last Supper (ok, Penultimate Supper). Also present was Krista of Londonelicious, who has now been present at so many events I've attended that people may be starting to talk. Sara Maternini, the evening's organiser, glided around and between us as mini-groups began to form (it actually reminded me of an old school playground scene).

Once most of the troops had gathered we marched inside and straight upstairs to the private dining area for the fine products tasting. We were introduced to some organice Italian short grain rice varieties, including Vialone Nano, Carnaroli and Venere. I have to say that although the texture of the black Venere rice was truly something to marvel over, the Carnaroli won it hands down for me. I remember commenting at the time that it was so fragrant I would have eaten an entire plateful by itself with great pleasure. We also sampled various varieties of porcini in olive oil, as well as some dried porcini of "Extra Quality". To wash it all down (please excuse my crudeness), we sipped on two of Italy's finest red wines. First a 2002 Barbaresco, which was very good, then a 2001 Barolo, which was very, very good. While we sipped and nibbled away, we all stood attentively as San Lorenzo's Antonio told us everything there is to know about the risotto from the two ways it can be cooked to the secret behind its creaminess (the true explanation of which is apparently impossible to translate into English).
An Italian masterpiece - Barolo

When Antonio had finished his speech we stood around chatting for a bit until we were instructed to make our way back down to the dining room. Time for the feast to begin!

Expressing opinions on the food and wine
As the evening's event was based on the promotion of Italian rice, it was only fitting that we began the meal with risotto. Two dishes, one made with porcini and the other with radicchio. Both were excellent, but I think I favoured the radicchio.

The next course was a curious-looking rice pie, served with a duck ragú. The colour of the pie itself wasn't the most attractive, and the texture of the rice made it a bit stodgy to be quite honest. The ragú sauce was fairly nice, with good umami flavour. But it didn't exactly complement or contrast the flavour of the pie, which was also basically all umami. With only a slice of the pie and some of the ragú on the plate, I also thought the dish as a whole was too heavy. It definitely needed something to balance it out, just a bit of salad with a light dressing would have made the difference.

The sweet course was a moulded rice pudding with rich chocolate sauce and a single raspberry with some slithered almonds scattered around the plate. The rice pudding had potential, but was sadly drowned out by the power of the dark chocolate. The raspberry provided some tart, tangy relief from the richness of the sauce, and the almonds provided the dish with a much-needed third dimension.

All in all it was a thoroughly enjoyable evening. It's always great to meet like-minded people with a passion for food and blogging.
Sweet, tart and textured - always a great combination

As I'm drafting this post I'm getting ready to go and see Ratatouille down the West End with Silverbrow and crew. I may report back briefly on that in the coming days.

Postscript: Saw Ratatouille last night and thoroughly enjoyed it. The animation was incredible and the humour hit home at every level - from slapstick for the kids up to some very sophisticated kitchen wit based on real life characters and situations for the cognoscenti.

6 comments:

The Boston Foodie said...

"Ratatouille" is really one of the best foodie films ever made, animation or not. In fact, it was almost as if the animation enhanced the experience of the food. Glad you liked it and it sounds like I missed yet another foodie night out. I've get to get some of those going here!

Maryann said...

Sounds like an interesting meet-up. Good post and great foodie sight :)

Trig said...

Thanks Maryann. I may be a bit of a sight sometimes, but I'll assume it was my site you were commending!

TomBolini said...

Great comment Aidan! I agree completely with you: the duck-ragu' pie missed completely the fragrance and flavours (all of a "floreal" range) of our black rice.

Just let me point out that what we were sipping with "rice arancini" (wonderfully made!) was not a mere "fizzing aperitif"... it was instead "Franciacorta millesimé", the most serious Italian competitor of Champagne:
http://www.san-lorenzo.com/en/store/scheda.aspx?idCategoria=145&idProdotto=395

See you soon!

Antonio

Trig said...

I’m terribly sorry, Antonio.

I saw the bottle and believe me I knew that it was a very serious wine. But when I cam to writing up the blog I couldn’t remember the name, and I didn’t want to embarrass myself or you guys by getting it wrong. I thought in this case the only thing I could do was not to attempt to mention it by name, but simply refer to it as an unknown aperitif. I enjoyed it very much, but the Barolo was definitely my favourite. I’m not really into white wines and Champagne, I always prefer a good red!

Please give my thanks to everyone at San Lorenzo for organising the evening, it was both very enjoyable and informative.

Jeanne said...

Oh gaawwwwwwd, you've just reminded me that I have my post on this lovely evening loitering in my drafts folder! Will have to see to that sooner rather than later. It was lovely to meet you in person (and no, the disguise needs some work as you were imediately identifiable from your blog photo!). I agree in almost everything, except that the black rice won hands down for me :)


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