Thursday, 15th May 2008 – Monza, Day 1
We got off to a good start on the Thursday morning, even if a 6.45 flight is a lot too early for my liking. At least we were flying out of Birmingham, which isn’t too far away, and we were booked with flybe on a 49-seater Embraer which meant that check in wasn’t exactly chaotic (although there was some discussion about the weight of my carry on baggage – I had the laptop trolley bag with my laptop and Lynne’s). Anyway, Glyn had also arrived around the same time we did, so we joined forces and lurked in the business lounge while we waited for the flight to be called. It was on time and prompt into Milan Malpensa and we were soon in control of our hire car and on our way to the Parco Hotel in Villasanta. The drive there was entertaining in that the two SatNav systems we had with us wanted to go completely different ways, and Charlotte (our system) kept sulking and informing me that “your speed is excessive” when she seemed unsure where we were going! Despite that we reached the Parco in good order, and dumped our bags, as the rooms weren’t quite ready yet, before heading out to hunt for lunch. No one seemed worried and the paperwork was minimal. I like the Parco a lot. It’s relaxed, it’s friendly, it’s probably quite expensive for what it is, but it’s on one side of the Parco di Monza and it’s a five minute drive from the paddock, which is very much in its favour. Oh, and also, they’re used to us… which helps a lot.
The lunch hunt was more complicated than it needed to be. Everything was closed it seemed so we ended up in a very odd place that came across like a campsite cafe from the 1960s, but that produced some very tasty seafood salad (even if it was obviously out of jars and the freezer) and a plate of spaghetti vongole that nicely filled the gap and would keep us all going till dinner that night. After that it was back to the hotel to unpack then off to the circuit to catch up on gossip.
And the main gossip – apart from the fact that Atte Mustonen was on too late a flight and wasn’t going to make the drivers’ briefing and that Salman Al Khalifa might not even make the meeting because his Schengen visa had expired – was the whacking great awning that Ultimate Motorsport had acquired. Now it’s fair to say this thing wouldn’t look out of place in the F1 paddock, but in an F3 paddock is just looks silly. Later in the weekend Fabio Carbone would claim that he planned on moving in when they got the upper floor in place. My main thought is that if they try and put that thing – popularly known as Terminal 7 – up in the paddock at Thruxton or Snetterton then no one else will be able to get in there with them – of course that may be the plan.
Anyway, after wandering around and chatting with various people, it was time to go back to the hotel again and change for dinner.
That night we were off to the Derby Grill at the Hotel de la Ville, just round the corner from the renovated Villa Reale… This is apparently one of the top 20 restaurants in Italy, and it certainly lived up to its billing. Three of us opted for one or other of the Menu Degustazione, which was superb. After a glass or two of Prosecco (well, you have to, don’t you?) we were served an amuse bouches of salmon tartare and black rice risotto, which was both pretty and remarkably tasty. The rice was nicely al dente, and the salmon just melted in the mouth.
After that we moved on to the serious business of the starters, with a risotto with local sausage, a speciality of Monza apparently, for me and for Glyn – and it was excellent.
Robert had the little fish from lake Como pickled in vinegar with sweet and sour onions:
And Lynne had the duck foie gras with blueberries sautéed in sweet Moscato wine and warm pan brioche. I was allowed a small taste (only a small one, I should say) and it was superb with the blueberries nicely offsetting the richness of the foie gras:
There was a significant pause during which various other guests became apparent, including Max Chilton (who appears to be afraid of raspberries) and his Mum with Max’s manager, Stefan Ratel and a batch of SRO people on another table, and Kenny Brack dining alone. So, people with money then… Certainly the hotel guest book contains some interesting names, and the place has been owned by the same family for 50 years, so it has history. It’s also a gorgeously old-fashioned, wood-panelled cosy womb of a place, with old silver and paintings.
It just feels good and welcoming in there.
Anyway, on to the mains. Lynne was taking it relatively easy with a pasta main of homemade mushroom ravioli with black rice and diced fresh tomatoes, which looked good (I didn’t get a taste).
Robert was on the veal ossobucco with risotto Milanese, the rice well-nigh perfect with its unctuous saffron taste, and the ossobucco a great big mouthful of meaty flavour.
We were going to be pushing it to find a better meal anywhere during the rest of the week. Glyn and I hit the veal cutlet, a proper Milanese speciality and cooked to perfection, the breadcrumbs crispy on the outside and soft and full of meat-juices on the inside, the veal beautifully tender.
We drank a couple of bottle of Sassella Valtellina Superiore 2003 with it. This is a local Lombardy wine made from the Nebbiolo varietal which is also used to make Barolo, and it went down a treat. Once that was gone it was time to make inroads into the desserts. Robert and I were having a version of apple pie (Homemade Golden apple-pie from Valtellina with vanilla sauce and ice-cream), which was delicious and – thank God – quite light, all things considered.
Glyn, predictably perhaps, went for the chocolate option… in this case the “Torta paesana, a traditional Monza style cake made with bread, cocoa powder, pine nuts and raisins, served with Sambuco sauce”. It looked very substantial indeed.
Lynne hit the tiramisu or rather “the pastry chef’s Tiramisù: Ladyfingers soaked in Arabica coffee and covered with whipped Mascarpone”. It was damn good too, so much so that she started into it before I could get a photo…
And that was washed down with a Morsi di Luce Pantelleria 2003 (made with Zibibbo, more commonly known as the Muscat varietal), a rich, lucious red-gold dessert wine from Sicily that I shall attempt to track down back in the UK.
I did find this description, which explains a lot about the wine in question. “Notes – Sourced exclusively from the Florio estate’s vineyards on the island of Pantelleria, off the southern coast of Siciliy. The volcanic island is rich in dark soil and steep hillsides, the vineyards are terraced between 50 and 100m and the vines are bush trained and planted in small ditches to protect them from the scorching heat and African winds. Grapes are left on the vine as long as possible to increase the sugar concentration and are hand harvested then crushed and left in contact with the skins for a short period. Pressing is gently pneumatic and fermentation is at a controlled 17 – 18 degrees C. Once an alcoholic volume of 5-6% is acheived grape spirit is added to a concentration of 16%, killing the fermentation process and leaving the natural grape sugars to make the sweet wine. Ageing is for 10 months in a selection of old and new 225L barrels and 8 months in bottle before release. Bright golden yellow with amber and topaz reflections, the nose offers concentrated aromas of apricots, elder blossom and toasted hazelnuts. Full bodied, smooth and velvety with ripe primary fruit flavours of acacia honey, citron peel and sage with a rounded finish reminiscent of honeyed, dried fruit and vanilla. Perfect with baked and dry pastries, excellent as a digestif after a fine meal.”
And after that an espresso, and some petit fours, delightfully described as “Caffè e frivolezze”.
Methinks we’ll be eating there again next year!