Monday, February 26th 2018 – Locanda Locatelli, London
February got slightly out of control when the lovely people at the Harden’s Guide announced their latest dinner. This would be at Locanda Locatelli, a restaurant we last visited in 2009 for a friend’s 40th birthday. It was lovely then, and given that Giorgio Locatelli is one of my favourite “celebrity” chefs, and wrote one of my very favourite cookbooks, the wonderful “Made in Italy”, it was too much to resist, even if it meant I’d have to get up at stupid o’clock the following morning to catch the first flight of the day from Heathrow to Copenhagen. I would deal with the pain of that when I had to (with an 03:45 start on the Tuesday morning for a 4 am taxi to the airport).
Because I was working in London, Lynne had to get a train up to meet me. We’d arranged to meet at the bar in the hotel, the Regency Hyatt – The Churchill, which also contains the restaurant. It was a stupidly cold night so I grabbed a cab from the taxi rank outside my office, and was in the Churchill Bar and Terrace good and early. I ordered a glass of fizz, an English Louis Pommery Brut, which arrived with olives and a portion of brilliantly cheesy palmier biscuits while I waited.
Lynne arrived and ordered the same, and as we had time, when we’d finished that we ordered a Blenheim Fizz cocktail each. These were made with Beluga Vodka, grape syrup, freshly squeezed lemon juice, Pol Roger and a limoncello foam with a basil garnish.
They were very good indeed. And then it was time to go in to dinner. The restaurant looked rather different from our previous visit, which wasn’t surprising given that in 2015 it had been extensively remodelled and then almost completely destroyed in a gas explosion in the hotel basement. Needless to say, you can’t tell. Normally, the restaurant requires its diners not to take photos with either a camera or a phone, on the grounds that they often have very high profile diners. However, as this was a special event, all bets seemed to be off, so I used my iPhone. We’d been to the first Harden’s Invites event, at le Gavroche, and had been seated with a group of other diners, one of them possibly the world’s most tedious and self-important property developers (!) but this time we had a table of our own. Once we were seated, the staff leaped into action with some fabulous little canapés and a generous pouring of Ombra di Pantera prosecco.
Freshly baked grissini (about 18 inches long it seemed) and a basket of fabulous breads appeared – though we did have to remind them about the bread – and we tried to not attack it so hard we wouldn’t be able to eat anything else. Cooking for us would be Mr. Locatelli himself, alongside Andy Needham, each of them taking on two dishes from the four course menu. They did come out a briefly welcome us before vanishing to the kitchen.
Needham was up first with a Cipolla farcita con fonduta di taleggio, polenta al tartufo pregiato (12-hour roast onion with taleggio and fontina fonduta, winter black truffle polenta). It was very cheesy, with the onion retaining its shape beautifully. It had the feel of a winter dish, the intensity of the cheese making it into the sort of thing you might want to eat at lunchtime during a day’s skiing.
With it we drank a Pecorino D’Offida Ciu Ciu Marlettaie, Abruzzo 2016, very fresh and just the thing to cut through the heavy fug of cheese!
The next course was again Andy’s, this time a malfatti di Burrata ai gamberi mazzaro del vallo , pomodori datterini e oregano (burrata filled pasta parcels with Sicilian red prawns, datterini tomatoes, chilli and oregano). The sauce was intense, the cheese spilled out of the pasta when you sank a fork into it, and the prawns were beautiful, soft, tender and perfect.
There came a change of wine at this stage, switching to a red, a big robust Capello di Prete Francesco Candido, Puglia 2013. It needed to be as we were now served a petto di faraona, carote glassate, crostino di fegatini e tartufo nero (roast breast of guinea fowl, glazed carrots, liver crostino and black truffle). This was meaty and a lot bigger than you might anticipate in a Michelin-starred restaurant, but again it tasted fine, a big, meaty blast of flavour, with the truffle providing an earthy note and the punch of the liver on the crostini setting it off still further. It felt like something your Italian grandmother would cook for you, if you had an Italian grandmother who could really, really cook.
The final dish, a dessert, was a glossy chocolatey Bunet (a chocolate and amaretti budino, Amaretto caramel, fresh whipped cream). It was so densely chocolatey in fact that I struggled to finish it, but I wasn’t about to beaten if I could avoid it. The caramel and the biscuity crumbs were lovely and added to the general gorgeousness in the bowl.
And then we’d finished having eaten a meal that in some ways was the most comforting Michelin-starred food I’ve ever eaten. Giorgio was now out of the kitchen, and was loitering in the main entrance so I dragged my massive copy of “Made in Italy” over to get it signed by the man himself. He was much entertained by the idea that I had a first edition, and by how young he and all the other staff looked in the photos, and that I’d carried the hulking great thing all the way across town (all 600 pages of it in a book that’s slightly, but only slightly, less than A4 sized).
We finished off with coffee and petit fours (or tea in Lynne’s case). Even the petit fours were not exactly petit, so we managed to get through half of them.
And at around 10:00 we staggered to the hotel entrance, asked the doorman to get us a cab, and made it back home a little after midnight. The alarm call was going to hurt, but it had been more than worth it.