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Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Quattro Passi - For the Finest of Italian Produce and Cooking in London's Mayfair

Name: Quattro Passi 

Where: 34 Dover Street, London, W1S 4NG, www.quattropassi.co.uk

Cost: Antipasti cost from £12 to £40, starters range from £12 to £30, main courses from £29 to £40 with side dishes at £4-5. There is a tasting menu priced at £80 for 7 courses. There is also a 2-course business lunch menu, Monday to Friday, for £25 per person, and 3 courses for £35. The restaurant is also offering a New Year’s Eve 7-course tasting menu for £222 including a glass of champagne on arrival.

About: Quattro Passi is a new restaurant in Dover Street, opposite The Ritz, which aim to bring the fresh flavours of Campania in Southern Italy, to London.

Chef/Patron Antonio Mellino has earned two Michelin stars at his landmark restaurant in Massa Loubrense in Campania, a region which many chefs say grows the finest lemons in Italy. He has moved his family to London with the stated aim of introducing real Italian fine dining.

Mellino, his sons Raffaele and Fabrizio and a top front of house and kitchen team, bring the skills perfected at his Amalfi coast restaurant, along with the light and simple pasta and seafood dishes and fabulous grills on which his reputation has been built.

The menu is impressive (with prices to match) featuring some of the finest produce Campania and other Italian regions have to offer. On our visit, mains included fish dishes like Amalfi lemon and basil infused monkfish, caramelised pears and chestnuts, homemade pasta with white truffles of Alba, or duck glazed in carob honey with Earl Grey creme caramel. 

What We Ate: We opted for the 7-course tasting menu priced at £80 per head. We started with an excellent platter of burrata cheese served with sweet pomodorino tomatoes and rocket leaves (representing the three colours of the national flag) doused in a treacly balsamic vinegar. The burrata was stunningly creamy and as good as the ones I enjoyed on my last trip to Campania.

Of note was also Quattro Passi’s generous bread “basket” – freshly baked in the restaurant, it featured a number of Italian classics including grissini, focaccia and friselle.

To follow, we had a magnificent linguine pasta course with courgettes and Parmesan cheese sauce.

Having just returned from a visit to the white truffle international fair and auction in Alba, I have come to appreciate these lovely little funghi. At Quattro Passi, we were served tagliolini pasta with generous shavings of white truffles – I loved the ingenious simplicity of this dish, the best way to appreciate the wonderful aroma and flavour of this Piemontese delicacy.

The fish course was mint-crusted turbot with a millefeuille of courgette and red turnips. Although the turbot was well made, the whole assembly lacked punch and focus in my opinion, with a rather bland courgette dish.

The main course was Fassone beef tagliata (fassone is a Piemontese breed of cattle highly regarded for the flavour of its meat), served with spicy broccoli, potato millefeuille and blackcurrant sauce. The beef was served medium rare, deliciously tender and indeed with a great depth of flavour. I was a little disappointed by the broccoli though, which despite being well flavoured, was a tad too soft for my taste.

For dessert we had the quintessential Italian dessert - Tiramisu with coffee ice cream and chocolate. With a milimetre-thin layer of cake, then microns-thin bitter chocolate, interspersed with dots of airily light mascarpone, this was a deliciously light and refined version of an often stodgy classic. I loved it.

What We Drank: Sommelier Diego served us a matched flight of wines. We kicked off with a glass of Quattro Passi's own label Champagne, from Epernay.

With our first course of burrata, we had a glass of Greco di Tufo, Vinosia 2013 from Campania, with fresh acidity, minerality and stone fruit flavours. 

Next came a glass of Ca' del Bosco 2010 from Curtefranca. With exhilarating minerality and steely fruit, this was a great example of one of Italy's best wines - a blend of Pinot Bianco and Chardonnay, from a top producer.

With the fish, we had a Sauvignon Blanc from Vigna Maso Tratta, La Vis 2013, from Trentino. With gooseberry and  nettle notes quite prominent, this nevertheless had a depth of flavour to make it a good match for the turbot. 

With the main course came a Chianti Classico 2011, from Peppoli, Antinori. Again from one of Italy's top producers, this was oak aged, with a heady nose of great complexity - sweet red cherries, raisins, vanilla and cedar among others, and tremendous length.   

For dessert, we had a passito wine, Roce Roce from Vinosia, 2010 made from Fiano d'Avalino grape. Named in Neapolitan dialect, it means 'sweet sweet'. Golden in colour, it is light in style with apricot aromas, and a long satisfying finish.

Likes: There is some superb quality Italian produce here, both on the table and in respect of wines. Such produce never comes cheap, and having spent time with some of Italy's finest food regions over the last few years, I think this restaurant really does serve some of the best produce of Italy. A perfect meal here would start with the burrata, followed by the pasta with white truffles, the fassone beef and ending with the wonderful tiramisu. The 7-course tasting menu at £80 is good value as is the £35 set business lunch which I am still to try.

Dislikes: Some have criticised the noise level at this restaurant, personally I could not see the issue. A few more affordable/accessible options on the a la carte menu would be welcome.

Verdict: Superb Italian produce very expertly cooked, for Italian fine-dining Quattro Passi is as good as it gets. Highly recommended.

Thursday, 11 December 2014

Why Should You Go to Sweden? The London Foodie Goes to Stockholm to Find out

The Swedish Lapland, the most northerly part of the country, is a very special place. I got to visit its capital Lulea and the surrounding forests and islands a couple of years ago – I went hunting, slept in a tree-house, ate reindeer, and nearly (but not quite) ended up skinny dipping with a bunch of Swedes.  These fond memories are still very much with me today (reviewed here). 

So when the good people at Visit Sweden asked me earlier this year whether I would like to return to Sweden, but this time, to Stockholm, the country’s capital and the gastronomic hub of Scandinavia, I did not think twice.

The visit took place during Stockholm Gastronomic Week and the Bocuse d’Or Europe competition (the most prestigious chef competition in the world being hosted in Sweden for the very first time), among other culinary events.

As in London, the food scene in Stockholm has enjoyed a complete revolution in the last 20 years. The city now has some fantastic delis, restaurants and artisan microbreweries as well as coffee houses, food markets, chocolatiers and everything else we have come to expect from any major European foodie destination.

One such place was Wienercaféet, founded in 1904, this is the place to experience the Swedish “FIKA” (or coffee break). Here we met Daniel Lindeberg, the creative Director at Wienercaféet and co-owner of the two-Michelin starred Restaurant Franzén.

A stunning place, this Grande Café’s signature pastry is known as Princess Cake – a superbly light sponge around layers of cream, jam and green-coloured marzipan (www.wienercafeet.com).

The elegant food hall Östermalms Saulhall was another foodie destination not to be missed in Stockholm.

It has been supplying the well-heeled Swedes with some fantastic native and international ingredients since 1888.

Today it is home to restaurants, champagne and seafood bars, as well as butchers, cheese and fishmongers, bakeries and more. It is the place to go for top quality ingredients, learning about their provenance and meeting the makers themselves (www.ostermalmshallen.se).

The Swedes’ love for fresh fish, caviar and their respect for natural, seasonal ingredients strike a chord with me as they share common values with Japanese cuisine. Shibumi is a newly opened Japanese-Scandinavian restaurant we visited on our first evening in Stockholm. Chef Sayan Isaksson, a Thai-national by birth, prepared us an interesting 6-course menu at Shibumi (SEK 1,250/£105 plus 5 beverages SEK 950/£80, total = £185). I enjoyed most of his creations, but truth to tell, I felt prices were eye-wateringly expensive.

I loved his dry-salted monkfish, with lightly smoked monkfish liver (known as ankimo, the foie gras of the sea), tobiko eggs (flying fish roe) and frozen dashi (Japanese stock made from bonito fish flakes and seaweed).

Another highlight was the Shibumi Sliders made from tender beef short ribs cooked over 48 hours. Served in a brioche bun with Japanese mayonnaise and plenty of kimchi (Korean pickled cabbage), they were delicious (http://www.esperantorestaurant.se/en/).

A more affordable choice was Långbro Värdhus, where we had a magnificent Swedish lunch cooked by Fredrik Eriksson. Långbro Värdhus is an former doctor’s villa, full of charm and with a very homely feel, despite being a full-fledged restaurant. The food was traditional Swedish fair: fresh, well-made and delicious.

We started with a varied platter of fish and accompanying sauces – smoked, raw and caviar including one of my favourites - Kalix Löjrom. This roe is normally referred to in gastronomic circles as the "gold of the North" as it comes from the Swedish Lapland, where I first tried it two years previously.

To follow we had a selection of different mains served buffet style. I went for the pork rillettes with roasted beetroots and sourdough, and was very happy with my choice. This was one of the finest meals I had during this trip and the prices were also surprisingly affordable (www.langbrovardshus.se).

From Långbro Värdhus, we headed to the city’s pier to catch a boat for the Island of Fjäderholmarna, the first stop in the Stockholm archipelago, a breathtaking landscape of 30,000 islands (www.fjaderholmarna.se).

There we visited Rökeriet (the Smokery), an elegant restaurant with great sea views, for a taste of the archipelago – myriad smoked fish and seafood of the highest quality (www.rokeriet-fjaderholmarna.se).

Also on the Island, the Fjäderholmarna Brew Pub was another interesting find – a microbrewery and pub manned by two Swedish friends Pelle Ågren and Andreas Willman.

Here we had a tasting of their 3 craft beers including a fantastic IPA, Libertas, as well as a visit to their brewing quarters (http://www.fjaderholmarnaskrog.se/english/On_the_island/brewery.html).

Back on dry land, we headed towards Södermalm for a foodie tour of this bohemian and eclectic district of Stockholm. Södermalm has a number of fantastic delis, quirky food shops, restaurants and bars, and it is here that the foodie crowd of Stockholm gathers.

Of note, Pärlans was a vintage caramel shop, and walking through its doors was like entering a time-warp to the 1940s. Their flavoured caramels were made on the premises, and were delicious (http://www.parlanskonfektyr.se/).

One of the main lunch hangouts in Södermalm is Meatballs for the People. Here we tried a number of delicious variations on this Swedish national theme. There are no fewer than 14 varieties of organic meatballs on offer, made from, among other things,  rooster, elk, bull, boar, salmon, reindeer and turkey.

My favourite was the reindeer meatball, which I enjoyed with a sweet and sour cucumber pickle, creamy mashed potatoes and cranberry sauce. If your only experience of Swedish meatballs is from Ikea, I highly recommend a visit to Meatballs for the People for a taste of the real thing (http://meatball.se/hem/).

The main focus of this trip, however, was the Bocuse d’Or Europe competition taking place at the Gastro Nord venue in Stockholm, and the fact that Sweden was hosting it for the very first time (www.bocusedor-europe.com).

This world famous competition, the chef’s equivalent to the Oscars, is very highly regarded in the industry. It saw 20 European chefs, each representing their own country, compete using only Swedish sourced ingredients, with only 12 countries qualifying to proceed to the world championship in Lyon in 2015.

Competitors had 5 hours and 35 minutes to cook a fish and a meat dish for 12 judges, many of whom were themselves Michelin multi-starred chefs. This was a really enjoyable experience, with a boisterous, partisan crowd supporting their national chefs, rather like national teams in the World Cup.

The arrival of the Bocuse d'Or Europe in Stockholm signifies the long heralded rise of Swedish food. In the UK, sales of Swedish food are up by 30% since 2006 and Swedish restaurants and bakeries are popping up everywhere in London. Michelin-star restaurant Hedone in Chiswick, West London, has received rave reviews since its opening in summer 2011, as has Swedish bakery Fabrique, which opened in Shoreditch at the end of 2012.

It will come as a surprise to few Eurovision devotees that the winners of this Bocuse d’Or Europe were Sweden, Denmark and Norway, with France in 4th place. Sadly neither Spain nor Italy made the cut.

The UK, represented by Adam Bennett, head chef at The Cross in Kenilworth, Warwickshire, came 6th in the competition. This means that Great Britain has qualified for the Bocuse d’Or final in Lyon in January 2015, which I will also be reporting on.

Preparations for the Bocuse d'Or Gala Dinner

I was blown away by the dynamic food culture of Stockholm, as well as its urbane elegance and charm. There is plenty to see and experience in Sweden, either in its Lapland or the capital, and what I experienced on my two trips convinces me that Sweden is now one of the gastronomic destinations of northern Europe. Travelling foodies take note!

Bocuse d'Or Gala Dinner
For more information on Sweden and its food scene, go to www.visitsweden.com/food and www.tryswedish.com .

For more information on Bocuse d’Or Europe, go to www.bocusedor-europe.com.

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