19/20 Dover Street, London. W1X 41U www.atozrestaurants.com/alloro
Despite Alloro’s illustrious peers in the A-Z group, including Aubergine, Ken Lo’s Memories of China, L’Oranger and Zafferano, it never before blipped my belly’s radar. However, beyond a mild title glints a tesoro nascosto….
After a Hendrick’s martini, sipped under the distracting daze of a doe-eyed hooker at Brown’s Hotel, I was lured there for ‘One Night in Sardinia’. My dining companion was not the working lady, but widely travelled gastro scribe, Dino Joannides.
Considering that chef, Daniele Camera (The Captial, Ibla, Floriana) is Piedmont born and trained, the one off evening seemed an odd billing until it was pointed out that the once sprawling kingdom of Sardinia included Piedmont. Camera accepted the task with gusto, cracking Carta da Musica across the capital’s Sardinian restaurants as research in the run-up.
Camera’s menu was paired with wines from ‘Feudi della Medusa’, a 50 hectare estate in Cagliari, southern Sardinia, close to the Forte Village. A-Z’s Operations Director, Sardinian, Giorgio Abis was inspired to create the evening after discovering the wines at this year’s Vinitaly wine fair.
Established in 2000, Medusa’s range comprises indigenous and international IGT wines which rest (according to the obligatory glossy brochure) in an impressive looking cellar propped by pink granite pillars.
To assuage my appetite, I dabbed springy, eiderdown like rosemary flecked focaccia into powerful, guttural olive oil from producer, ‘Vittorio Cassini’.
Served on a plate similar to a microwave turntable, brittle air dried, salt cured-tuna crunched nicely against crinkled lettuce, sun dried tomatoes and pert green beans. Compared to sometimes ‘hot’ examples of white grape, Vermentino, Albithia ’08 maintained a reasonable alcohol temperature, bringing the estate’s gravelly terrain into the glass. It culminated with a hint of confected citrus, conferring acidity and interest to the dish.
My favourite of Camera’s courses was the least aesthetic, but most authentic. A soup of beady fregola (Sardinia’s take on cous-cous) bound steamed, meaty coccioba clams. Alba Nora Isola dei Nuraghi ’07 proved a rested and restrained, finely textured Chardonnay. Despite the difficulties in partnering liquid with liquid, it had enough weight and freshness to scythe through the tomato broth base.
Maloreddus pasta traditionally gets its ridged shape when pressed against a wicker basket. It cupped tomato and saffron sauce and morsels of aniseed, garlic and clove pepped sausage from acorn-fed pigs. It looked stodge incarnate but tasted leavened. Brick-coloured ’06 Cannonau, which is often described as a version of grape, Grenache, spoke of spice and sun baked soils with a hint of uplifting menthol in the finish. Alas, when taken in tandem with the dish, it took on an odour of ordure…
Judiciously cooked Porceddu (roasted suckling pig) proved the only tomato free savoury dish. Under an armour of crackling, flesh was tender, imbued with zingy bay leaf and enduring wild myrtle. In a glass so large it might have doubled as a sardine aquarium, Gerione Isola dei Nuraghi ’06 was the most enjoyable (and, unsurprisingly, most costly) of the dry wines, with aromas of liquorice and fine, feint tannins. Frustratingly, a request to the winery never yielded the names of the grapes involved, although I suspect Cannonau dominates.
Sebadas was the most unusual, barely sweet dessert that I’ve tried this year. A raviolo fritter of fresh pecorino was generously drizzled with slightly metallic, ultimately bitter Corbezzelo Arbutus honey. To make a kilo, it takes a bee up to 8,000 excursions from flower to hive compared to 3,000 for ‘normal’ honey. It was a reasonable match with Aristeo Vino Passito ’05, which yielded wet walnuts on the nose and, believe it not agreeably, four star petrol on the palate. It is a blend of aromatic grapes, Malvasia and Nasco, the latter of which is nearing extinction. The best way to ensure its survival of couse is to drink it – then more will be planted.
Finally, dark, sturdy, sharp and medicinal wild myrtle liqueur was served as ice frosted shots. The elixir allegedly confers aphrodisiac properties, something which Brown’s Hotel’s femme fatal might do well to prescribe her potential clients…