Citrus at The Park Lane Hotel, Piccadilly, London, W1J 7BX
There is the possibility that either my brother or I were conceived in Venice. I don’t know for sure because I, er, haven’t asked, but my parents spent much time there as newlyweds and later for their anniversaries and somewhere in that time frame we were born. I can understand it – it’s a pretty sexy city – and as for the food, well the only reason I wouldn’t be doing some baby-making of my own is because I’d be stuffing my face with everything I could get my hands on. Now after a masterclass at The Park Lane Hotel, Piccadilly with the GM Paolo Lorenzoni and Head Chef Daniele Turco of the Gritti Palace Hotel, Venice, I can have a go at making some of my own gut-busting and delicious Venetian Summer food or, when that fails, head to the in-house restaurant Citrus for a little taste of Italy.
The Summer menu launched for the period of July and August 2011 and had been created by Chef Daniele; a selection of which we would be cooking and tasting. On the menu for the evening was whipped air-dried cod with scampi, polenta & grapefruit; home-made black ink tagliolini with cuttlefish; seabass with scallop carpaccio; and a millefeuille “Carnivale” with raspberries & strawberries for dessert. Better still, we’d be split into teams and make all of these dishes in The Park Lane’s professional kitchen. It was a challenge and I like challenges. Competitive? Me? Never.
My partner for the evening and I were assigned the main sea bass course, which I was glad for as not only is fish my least cooked with ingredient, my permanently high body temperature makes me an absolutely rubbish pastry chef. Aprons on, we trundled off into the heart of the kitchen to begin work on our sea beast.
If you ever have the misfortune to watch me in action in a professional kitchen, you would never believe I attended a culinary school in my late teens. Professional kitchens somehow turn me into a pathetic mess of a person, doing everything wrong. Maybe it’s because I take it far too seriously; maybe all I really need is a big glass of wine.
My partner was instructed to season and coat the sea bass with flour whilst I was told to prep the baby leeks. This is where I made my first mistake – after lining them up carefully and checking them twice over, I cut them. Our chef peeked over my shoulder.
“What’s this?” He picked up a baby leek.
“Baby leeks?” I offered. He shook his head.
“What happened to chopping them evenly?”
I looked at my handy work, confused. Isn’t that what I’d just-… oh. Apparently I had lined up the tops of the leeks perfectly when in fact I should’ve been lining up the bottoms, thereby ruining them all. Whoops.
We continued on through julienning vegetables and shucking scallops but then it came time to slice the scallops into lovely little thin slices. My scallops did not want to be sliced evenly and I ended up with pathetic little slithers, which I then tried to hide to no avail. Our chef sighed inwardly and I shuffled my feet, trying to hide my red face by drinking copious amounts of water (where was my wine?!).
Somehow, we managed to pull through together and turn out a dish that had Chef Daniele nodding in approval. To my relief we learned that we would not actually have to cook our dinners and so back we went to the cosy and beautiful Citrus dining room, ready to be waited on and eat.
The menu was delicious, made even more so by the knowledge that we could – and had – made these dishes! My favourite course was the bizarrely more-ish whipped air-dried cod, a delightfully playful dish with bright citrus flavours, chargrilled polenta and the sticky almost glue-like whipped cod, a delicacy I had never tasted before but was now addicted to. It was a lovely evening, so much so that I was even able to forget the failures of my time in the kitchen and instead enjoy what was a stonking great meal. I even had a little booklet of recipes to take home with me and relax over in my own kitchen.
Citrus itself is a fine Italian restaurant with a superbly run kitchen and friendly and attentive staff, one that I’d be happy to eat at any time. Besides, if I really wanted to eat authentic Venetian food I could always take a trip to Venice to visit Chef Daniele at The Gritti Palace Hotel – no baby-making here, just good food.