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The return of autumn brings with it Italy's most rare and famed delicacy - the white truffle.
The white truffle season generally starts from October to mid December. However, this year has been a particularly dry season and therefore a late harvest is anticipated. Subsequently, II Convivio, the Etrusca Group's elegant Belgravia restaurant and Zagat's Newcomer of the Year 2000, will be introducing their special Truffle Menu at the end of October, allowing this elitist fungi to realise its true potential and ensuring the aroma and flavour are at their most intense.
Thoughtfully presented by Head Chef Lukas Pfaff, this innovative and well-balanced menu allows Lukas the opportunity to introduce these rare delicacies to his customers by way of his creative dishes.
IL CONVIVIO TRUFFLE TASTING MENU, Autumn 2001
lnfusione di Tartufo e Spugnole con Gnocchetti Tartufati
Fusion of truffle and morel mushrooms with truffled gnocchetti
At £55.00 per person the
Il Convivio, 143 Ebury Street, London, SW1W 9QN
Tel: 0207 730 4099
Chef Lukas Pfaff is from the Black Forest, but he clearly enjoys paying homage to Italian cuisine, albeit under the close scrutiny of the Quaradeghini brothers who own half a dozen Italian restaurants in London. The menu is arranged in five sections: Antipasti, pasta, pesce, carni and dolci. From the antipasti, I saw (on the next table) an amazing plate of Sardinian ham with melted baked pecorino cheese and Carasau flat bread, enough for a lunch meal in its own right. I particularly liked the sound of a chickpea and rosemary pancake with wild mushrooms and rocket but in the end we decided to go for pasta, and chose two dishes from the boundaries of what can be classified strictly as pasta: Gnochetti and Risotto. Gnochetti are little gnocchi made from a mixture of potato and pumpkin in a rich butter and sage sauce. The dumplings were well made but I found the flavour a bit bland, but this is essentially comfort food, or a vehicle for other flavours such as the exceptionally good fresh parmesan that the waiter dispensed so liberally.
I was in an offal mood, and began with Risotto con Animelle, risotto with lamb's sweetbreads, beautifully browned on the outside and meltingly tender within. The risotto was perfectly timed, with a creamy consistency but with proper definition of the arborio rice grains. It was enhanced in colour and flavour with a little radicchio, which mixes with the rice without turning it into a sticky pilaf. No misguided attempt had been made to combine the sweetbreads with the risotto - they retained their integrity and took pride of place.
As if animelle were not enough, I followed them with Rognoni di Vitello - calve's kidneys on a rich red onion and sultana confit topped with crispy thin pancetta (Italian bacon). This was a delicious combination, the slightly sharp confit perfectly cutting the richness of the kidneys. This is grown up food and not for the faint hearted! My colleague, a serious pastry chef, had the seared rib eye steak whose excellent flavour and texture was supported admirably by those sadly neglected tubers topinambor or fartichokes as they are known in our family.
I was hoping she'd try something tarty for pud, but she claimed restraint and wanted Il Convivio's signature pud Gelato di Espresso Bianco - jelly with espresso and Cinzano Bianco - don't panic, just winding you up. This is an amazing ice cream which tastes strongly of real espresso coffee, (most coffee ice creams are brown and always seem to taste of Nescaff). This somehow miraculously remained virgin white. I had the chocolate and pear upside down cake which I have to say was the only disappointment of the meal in spite of looking most beautiful on one of those big spun glass plates. It was quite burnt on the top (sorry, bottom!), and it was entirely hollow inside where I had been expecting the old Valrhona choc to come oozing, if not gushing forth. But all was not lost, as the accompanying caramelised pears (someone is a dab hand with the blow torch) and the caramel ice cream would have made a splendid dessert on their own. Forget the cake!
The service was very attentive and professional by waiters whose good looks attracted the surreptitious glances of my lady companion. But Il Convivio is also graced by the presence of one of London's now famous lady sommelières, Luciana Girotto, who also looks after the wine buying for the other members of the Etrusca group of restaurants. The list is strong in regional country wines, and for our lunch we had glasses of a fresh and very fruity Primitivo from Puglia. Wine aficionados could have fun booking the lovely private dining room which seats up to 14 around a handsome antique mahogany table. Luciana could provide a succession of interesting wines, a tour of Italy from North to South, accompanied by Lukas Pfaff and his brigade's excellent cooking.
143 Ebury Street, London SW1
Tel: 0207 739 4099
Lunch: Mon Sat 12noon - 3pm; £16 two courses, £20 for three
Dinner Mon Sat 6.30pm - 11.30pm; £23 two courses, £28 for three
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