Travel/Food 2008 – Monza, Day 2

Friday, 16th May 2008 – Monza, Day 2

Day 2 involved a hideously early start, with breakfast at 7 am, followed by a “stand by your bags” moment as we all pitched into the car at 7.45 and headed for the accreditation office. We must have been the first people there, because the girl in charge was just pinning up a notice with the opening hours as we parked up and charged down the stairs. From there it was short haul to the circuit. We picked up our photographers tabards and headed out into the wood for free practice. Monza is set in an old and massive park, with trees everywhere, and it’s beautiful at any time of day, but especially first thing on a spring morning with a cuckoo sounding off in one of the trees, rabbits everywhere, and wildflowers all around. Without getting too distracted we eventually decided on the Ascari bends to start with, only to find that whoever cut the photographers’ holes in the wire fencing clearly believes that all photographers are about 10 feet tall… I was grateful to discover that someone had left a plastic crate there, so I could at least take some shots. I was still straining upwards though, and had cramp in my right hand and elbow by the time the 30 minute session finished. We wandered back to the paddock and spent quite a lot of time just meandering and talking to people, though I was able to conclude that Andy Meyrick is probably insane (well, if he reckons Monza is anything like Croft, he is) and that he’s also very funny, but then he drives for Carlin and a sense of humour tends to be helpful there! The Hitech guys were all very bouncy and cheerful too, and Walter Grubmüller even spoke (he didn’t say anything interesting, but hey, he actually spoke), but then they were fastest at this point. Of course, that would all change, but they were happy enough then.

Lunch time came and went, and we spent part of the afternoon at the Parabolica, but not – to my annoyance – on the photographers’ stand, because none of the gates were unlocked and the marshals couldn’t do anything about it. Instead I did what I could from the stand, but the fencing mostly got in the way. The stands seem to be crumbling quite badly in places, and the rabbits living underneath them probably aren’t helping much either. Anyway, after that we lurched back to the paddock again, and settled in for the first qualifying session (but not before we encountered Dennis Retera who is so good looking that usually I’m more than happy to talk to him, but then he tried to explain how the GT4 points work – and once my brain had leaked out through my ears we managed to make our excuses and leave!). And that’s when the weather gods got us. It started raining well before qualifying was supposed to start, so it was something of a mystery to us when they actually sent them all out. It didn’t take long before it became apparent that that had been a mistake, to say the least, The session was brought to a halt with the red flags being thrown and those who hadn’t fallen off made their way back to the pits. They then sat around, the cockpits slowly filling with water, while the decision was finally taken to cancel the session altogether. Needless to say, with no one having officially qualified at that point (you have to do three full laps) that meant there would have to be a team manager’s meeting later that evening to thrash out an alternative plan. As a result we abandoned Glyn and – after narrowly avoiding losing my shoes in the swamp that had been the car park that morning – went back to the hotel to shower and change for another splendid dinner. After we’d changed and settled in for an aperitif in the hotel bar, we got word that Glyn had escaped the team managers and was on his way back, so I picked him up while Lynne got the hotel to call the restaurant and tell them we’d be late. This became a pattern over the weekend!

Friday night we dined at the Ristorante Via del Borgo, which wasn’t at all easy to find. After we’d corkscrewed around the one way system of Corcorezzo (which seems to resemble something designed by Escher) we eventually homed in on it, though I’m not sure I could find it again! Anyway, it’s rather different to the Derby Grill, being a long, high ceilinged space that seems to have been built into what was once the colonnaded outer section of a building. It’s clearly an old structure, but it feels modern, as does the food. Where the Derby was olde worlde style both in decor and cooking, this is something very different. This time we all went for the menu degustazione, starting with some rather entertaining meatballs as an amuse bouches.

We then moved on, via the bread basket…

To the tartar di ricciola con favette pecorino dressing d’acciuga e agrumi (or in other words a fish tartar with broad beans – which Lynne ate – sprinkled with pecorino cheese, in a citrus dressing). This was good if slightly bland (the fish anyway), but the dressing was interesting and packed quite a punch.

Next up was a budino di piselli, spiedino di gambero, salsa, lattuga e balsamico, in effect pease pudding, with prawns, and a lettuce and balsamic sauce. Lovely, light, with heaps of flavour in the prawns.

Then we moved on to a risotto of sorts, again with peas (the riso, piselli e mentuccia, con guazzetto di pesce), flavoured with mint and dotted with pieces of fish. We were again doing splendidly, though we were all pleased that none of these courses were huge. There was enough risk of having to waddle home afterwards, without being faced with giant plates of such good food.

A small portion of very intense potato and watercress soup (zuppa di patate e crescione con le rane) in a very artistic bowl, which Glyn especially like – he’s always impressed by fancy crockery.

And we were finally at the main course, a choice of fish or meat. The fish (scaloppa di sanpietro al profumo di camomilla con vinegrette di rape rosse) was a beautiful fillet of St. Pierre, with a camomile-perfumed sauce and a beetroot vinaigrette.

It was wonderfully fresh (I was allowed taste) and the meat was a loin of veal stuffed with prosciutto ham and artichoke hearts and a sauce made with calves liver (lombata di vitello farcita al prosciutto con carciofini e salsa al fegato).

We were starting to flag a bit by now, but then we were threatened with the cheese trolley, which was pretty scary!

We all selected bits of cheese we’ll never be able to identify again, but which were utterly perfect in their presentation and ripeness, and that would reasonably have been time to throw the towel in for anyone…

But they hadn’t finished with us. Next up were the pre-desserts, a portion of sweetened goats cheese, with a fruit sauce…

And some little biscuits and the like.

As if that wasn’t enough, it was followed by a different dessert for each of us. All we could do was agree to eat a quarter each and pass the plate on… That meant there was a chocolate mousse…

A creme brulee…

A zabaglione

And a lemon meringue circulating at any given time. And they were all superb!

And so we waddled off into the night!

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