I get to go to some amazing food and wine events but none has beenquite as original as last night’s dinner, part of a series called A Journey From Water to Wine: New Concepts in Contemporary Fish Cuisine.
The idea was conceived by one of the wine world’s more charminglyeccentric characters, Roberto Bava and co-funded by San Pellegrino(hence the water - and the lavishness of the boxed set of menus wereceived at the end. They must be one of the few companies who are notcredit-crunched these days . . . )
Bava has held a number of these events throughout northern Europe in Iceland, Denmark, Ireland, Sweden, Norway, Finland and Holland - the theory being that they have a particular style of fish cookery that lends itself to being combined with both water and wine. For the London leg he chose the ebullient Richard Corrigan (cooking at Bentley’s rather than at his eponymous restaurant in Mayfair)
It’s a formula that should have worked. Corrigan is a gifted cook with a surprisingly light touch with fish and Bava’s wines are high quality but somehow the combinations by and large didn’t gel, possibly, I suspect, because Corrigan is more used to working with French wines with which this menu would have been better suited. (I’ll get to the water in a moment)
Here’s what we ate:
Primosecolo Chardonnay Brut with deep fried olives
Actually this delicious pre-dinner nibble was the best pairing but then deep-fried morsels usually do flatter fizz. A very elegant, creamy modern wine
Hot buttered Kent asparagus and Cornish crab
This was less harmonious. A perfect, seasonal dish (with just the white meat), delicate, not over-buttery but it unbalanced the wine, a 2001 vintage of Bava’s Toto Corde, Altalanga and made it taste slightly flat and sweet. Might have been the effect of the glasses (Bava recommends drinking the wine “from balloon glasses like a serious Barolo”) or simply that a younger vintage would have provided the note of counter-balancing acidity that was needed.
Salt chilli native lobster with coriander and linguine
A fusion dish treating the linguine as noodles. Gorgeous sweet lobster, delicate south-east Asian spicing. Paired with the 2008 vintage of Bava’s Cor de Chasse Gavi di Gavi - elegant, dry and creamy. A pretty successful match and the best pairing of the night though I couldn’t help feeling that an Alsace or German riesling would have had the edge.
Hand-caught plaice from the World Heritage Coast Line of Dorset with Iberico ham, morels and broad beans
Leaving aside the idea of ‘hand-caught’ plaice (line-caught, surely?) this really misfired. The wine, a particularly lush, rich 2003 Altessere Monferrato Bianco was far too powerful for the delicate fish although it keyed in to the accompanying umami-rich Iberico ham, morels and peas. If you took a mouthful of everything it worked - just. If Corrigan - or his head chef - was going to be bold he’d have been far better to create a red wine match at this point in the meal. I could sense that Bava was disappointed.
Lancashire buffalo curd with candied celery
An interesting cheese course (creamy with a sweet twist) that did absolutely no favours to the Cadodo, Monferrato Rosso 2005, a supple, seductive modern Nebbiolo. (Oddly the Alteserre came into its own here, the candied celery accentuating its opulence)
English strawberries, lemon curd and Lavender shortbread
Strawberries were on the right lines for a match with Bava’s delicate, fragrant Bass Tuba Moscato d’Asti but the intensely lemony curd totally overpowered the wine.
And what about the water? Well I didn’t think that it was a preferable match to the wine at any juncture but it had an interesting effect, cleansing the palate between each sip (something you take for granted, if you’re not directed to think about it). I also didn’t think the suggested combinations necessarily worked - sometimes the minerality of the San Pellegrino was intrusive.
It went best with the spicy lobster dish and the plaice, ham and morels while the still Acqua Panna was better with the crab, the cheese and the strawberries. I’m not sure it’s possible to draw any conclusions from that. Bava’s general feeling is that still water is better with white wines and sparkling with red - or possibly the foods that those wines generally pair with best. Personally I don’t much like the idea of drinking sparkling water with sparkling wine.
I must say I like Bava. He’s an engaging character (like Richard Geoffroy of Dom Perignon and Randall Grahm of Bonny Doon) who is always pushing the limit of how one perceives his wines and has a far better understanding of food and wine matching than most winemakers. But somehow the philosophy got lost in translation. A shame.