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Il Convivio
Clifford Mould enjoyed his lunch at this stylish Italian on the Belgravia - Pimilico border

Il Convivio's Truffle Festival 2001

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
 Uova di Quaglia con Crema di Tartufo Biartco e Fegato Grasso Poached quail eggs with white truffle cream and duck foie gras 
Piccoli Cannelloni con Animelle e Astice, Salsa al Tartufo.Bianco Cannelloni of sweetbreads and lobster with a white truffle sauce 
Branzino con Crosta di Tartufo e Spinaci Saltati Pan fried fillet of wild sea bass with a white truffle crust and sauteed spinach 
Or
 Gallo Nero Tartufato, Cotto sull' Osso con Tortino di Vegetali, Salsa Maggiorana Roasted black leg chicken with a white truffle tapenade, served with a vegetable tartlet and marjoram sauce 
Souffle di Caprino con Miele al Tartufo Coats cheese soufflé with truff led honey 
Caffe e Piccola Pasticceria Coffee and petits fours 

At £55.00 per person the 
II Convivio Truffle Menu is undoubtedly a gastronomic experience not to be missed. 

Il Convivio, 143 Ebury Street, London, SW1W 9QN 
Tel: 0207 730 4099 

Time was when Italian restaurants were decorated with mock arches and murals of Amalfi, the waiters wielded giant pepper grinders and offered menus with two pages of pasta - cooking by numbers. Actually, there are still plenty of these travesties around, even in the smarter districts of London. Il Convivio is a good example of the stylish revisionist kind of Italian restaurant, streamlined rather than totally minimalist, white with splashes of bold earth colours, and an electrically operated glass roof. The references to Italian culture are more scholarly than touristy - the name Il Convivio derives from Dante, and there are quotations from L'Inferno and Il Paradiso on the walls in a sort of chiselled version of the poet's handwriting. The waiter was unable to translate for me: "ees a beeta like youra Chaucer", he volunteered. I knew what he meant, you wouldn't want the Miller's Tale at lunchtime.

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. 

Il Convivio
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
Closed Sunday


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