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Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Stelle di Stelle Pop-Up Dinners at Harrods - Giorgio Pinchiorri and Annie Féolde (3-Michelin Stars, Enoteca Pinchiorri of Florence)

Words & Photography by Matthew Brown and Luiz Hara

Name: Stelle di Stelle Pop-Up Dinners at Harrods

Where: Harrods, 87-135 Brompton Road, London, SW1X 7XL, http://www.harrods.com/content/the-store/restaurants/stelle-di-stelle

Cost: Stelle Di Stelle offers two set menus, one for lunch and one for dinner. Dinner includes six courses and an aperitivo for £115, or £140 with matching wines and beer. At lunchtime, a four-course menu and aperitivo is also available at £65 or £85 with matching beverages.

About: Stelle Di Stelle is a series of pop-up dinners taking place on the lower-ground floor restaurant at Harrods (in the space previously occupied by Frescobaldi) and is run in association with Identità Golose, a culinary association established to promote modern Italian cuisine. 

From September 2014 to January 2015, Harrods welcomes five of Italy’s best restaurants, with 13 Michelin stars between them, to take up residency in-store. Hosting for one month each, the Italian chefs will provide diners with a special edit of their signature dishes. 

For December, Stelle Di Stelle is being run by restaurateur and sommelier Giorgio Pinchiorri and head chef Annie Féolde, of the three Michelin-starred Enoteca Pinchiorri in Florence. The partnership between Pinchiorri and Féolde is one of the most long-standing and illustrious in Italian cooking. Enoteca Pinchiorri began as a wine cellar and tasting room in Florence in 1972, with Annie Féolde starting to serve dishes to accompany the wine in 1974. It went on to become one of Italy’s best restaurants. Féolde was the first woman in Italy to be awarded three Michelin stars, whilst Pinchiorri has amassed one of the best wine cellars in the world, with over 145,000 bottles and a particular focus on Italian wines.

Today, Féolde is supported by head chefs Riccardo Monco and Italo Bassi and remains dedicated to using culinary experimentation to give new life to the history and cuisine of Tuscany.

What We Ate: Visiting in the evening, we went for the six course set menu with matching wines.

The meal began with an aperitivo of Grana Padano flakes and prosciutto - both the cheese and the ham had a creaminess and an understated saltiness that gently whet the appetite. They were accompanied by a selection of Italian breads, including a traditional Tuscan white loaf and a Focaccia so light and delicately flavoured with rosemary it was a great accompaniment to the amuse bouche.

The first course was a chestnut mousse with pancetta, pine nuts and rosemary-infused olive oil. The mousse was silky in texture, making it light without being overly aerated and fluffy. The saltiness of the pancetta and the crunch of toasted pine nuts perfectly complemented the subtle sweetness of the chestnut.

This was followed by octopus cooked in olive oil with pumpkin cream, coffee pearls and watercress sprouts. In a 3-stage cooking process the octopus was poached and cooked confit, before being roasted ahead of serving. This ensured that the flesh remained tender and soft, even in the thickest parts of the octopus tentacle. Alongside the smokey coffee flavour, the pumpkin cream supplied an unlikely warmth and depth to the dish, a theme that would continue in the meal’s second seafood course.

For the third course, however, we were served a poached egg with Alba white truffle and Grana Padano fonduta. The combination of truffle and cheese brought a new intensity to the meal, and was given balance by the addition of a broccoli mousse. There is an Italian tradition of using egg as a pedestal for the bold flavours of truffle, and here the addition of fried breadcrumbs provided a welcoming contrasting texture.

The egg was followed by another excellent dish, fusilli al ferretto with artichokes, scampi and liquorice powder. The fusilli al ferretto are a star of the Enoteca Pinchiorri menu, and Féolde’s spirals of pasta are slender and tightly wrapped, giving both a more delicate appearance and a stronger texture. Like the pumpkin cream served with the octopus earlier, the artichoke provided a warmth that resounded throughout the dish, offset by the sweetness of the liquorice powder.

The fifth course, a rack of lamb topped with garlic and thyme and served with soft and hard polenta with cavalo nero was similarly impressive. I enjoyed the contrasting textures and clean flavours of the polenta against the medium-cooked lamb and the addition of white thyme crumble.

The dessert, we are told by our waiter - a combination of bread, chocolate, oil and salt -reflected Féolde’s memories of her childhood in Florence, in which these three ingredients were given to children as a reward for good behaviour. A chocolate mousse was served inside a dark chocolate bar, and alongside a dark chocolate crumble. The bar was sandwiched between an olive oil and salt-infused biscuit, the sharpness of which was a much needed counterpoint to the richness of the chocolate. Despite this, however, the dessert lacked the complexity of the other dishes. The trio of flavours was delivered well, but the dish lacked either the lightness or the depth that generate true love for a dessert course in my opinion.

What We Drank: Unsurprisingly, given its name, the focus at Enoteca Pinchiorri is as much on the wine as it is the food, and that was no less the case here. Appropriately for the time of year, the meal included a duo of Ferrari Astis. The first, served with the Grana Padano and Prosciutto, was a light spumante providing a great background to the salty aperitivo.

The second course was served with a Rosso Di Montalcino Doc San Polo 2012, a Tuscan red with light tannins and notes of plums, blackberries and black cherries, making it a good companion to the hearty seafood dish. 

It was followed by the second of the Astis, a Special Edition 2002 Vintage Giulio Ferrari Riserva del Fondatore. Unlike the spumante before it, made with a blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes, this blanc de blanc wine was made to a blend that Giulio Ferrari had kept secret his whole life. The fruitiness typical of Chardonnay was complemented by an incredible brioche flavour, developed over more than 10 years of ageing. This depth made it a worthy challenger to any champagne, and an ideal companion to the bold flavours of the white truffle and Grana Padano.

Surprisingly, the fourth course was served with a beer, the Moretti La Rossa, a double bock beer made with 100% malted barley. This gives it a dark amber colour and a rich sweet taste that went well with the caramelised artichokes and liquorice powder. A wine might have stood more delicately in its place, but the beer brought out the most comforting elements of this wholesome pasta dish.

The lamb was served with a Poggio Al Tesoro Mediterra IGT Toscana 2011, another Tuscan red made with a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah grapes. This was an undeniably full-bodied wine, with notes of tobacco, black pepper and plum and a chewy consistency that made it a strong companion to the meat course.

Finally, the dessert wine, a Giovanni Allegrini Recioto Della Valpolicella Classico DOCG 2010, had an incredibly complex sweetness, with aromas of prune, blackberries and clove that made it a valuable companion to the simplicity of the dessert.

Likes: There is so much to like about Giorgio Pinchiorri and Annie Féolde’s takeover of Stelle Di Stelle. Fantastic ingredients and traditional combinations are brought to life with such complexity that they feel brand new. Surprises on the pairing menu, such as magnificent Giulio Ferrari Trento DOC 2002 and the Poggio Al Tersoro Toscana gave the meal a celebratory feel - ideal for December.

Dislikes: Few rooms could do justice to the quality of the Italian cuisine on offer here, and this space on the Lower Ground floor of Harrods is not quite one of them. It does succeed in providing an escape from the end of year mayhem on the shop floor, however, and ensures that the focus remains on the artistry on the plate.

Verdict: If you haven’t made it to Giorgio Pinchiorri and Annie Féolde’s three Michelin-starred Enoteca Pinchiorri in Florence, Stelle di Stelle at London’s Harrods may be the opportunity you were waiting for, and right at our doorstep. Recommended.

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