There are a lot of Italian restaurants in Mayfair and many of them rate from 'good' to among the best in London (ergo the UK and in fact anywhere not in Italy), so how to choose between them?
It is often the little extras that count in smart eateries; pretty amuses bouches, prettier serving staff, dishes served on polished oak boards, in shot glasses, newspaper cones or espresso cups etc. However sometimes it is the big extras that count more; like getting five excellent courses, and six very good wines (and plenty of them) for a paltry £65. Thus it was that, after several complimenatary glasses of Prosecco, refreshingly delicate and welcome after a long day, unlike Wine Chap's rambling introduction to the evening, forty guests sat down at Sartoria's private room to enjoy head-chef Alan Marchetti's Tuscan-inspired menu with paired wines from the Mastrojanni Estate in Montalcino:
Coppa con Carciofini marinati al limone: 'Chokes are traditonally difficult to match with wines which are made to taste strangely sweeter as a result of the pairing whilst leaving an oddly metallic aftertaste. High acid whites are suggested as partners (Sauvignon, Chenin etc) however the acidity of the lemon marinade could have been jarring so the softer Chardonnay component of the Ginestre 2006 (Chardonnay/Sauvignon blend) from Castellare helped the wine play a diplomatic role in resolving both concerns.
Lardo with red pecorino cheese and acacia honey: Lardo and lipbalm are my two essentials at wine fairs, where a day or two tasting cask samples of new vintages will cause blistering and inflammation of tongue and lips unless you have sufficient fat and grease to protect these vital organs. There was no lipbalm in the construction of the dish but it was a winetaster's dream combo, with the nutty pecorino cutting through the fluffy melting saltiness of the lardo, both forcing saliva to armour the palate against the youthful tannins of Mastrojanni's Rosso di Montalcino 2005. The ripe sweetness of the vintage was slightly muted by the acacia honey which, whilst I love with Pecorino, might have chosen to forego in this instance.
Wild mushroom risotto with juniper pecorino cheese was nicely understated, the funghi seasonally fresh and the juniper-flavoured cheese from the coastal Maremma region, salty but not too pungent and picking up the sinewy, gamey, spicy cherry tones of the Brunello 2001 which was served in magnums. Slightly austere currently (especially from big-format, slower-ageing bottles) this showed promise to mature in to a classic Brunello.
Chestnut-stuffed, ham-wrapped Pheasant breast with white polenta, a traditional Tuscan game dish, offered tender and flavoursome meat, the piquancy of which was nicely smoothed out by the creamy, strangely herbal polenta. The Brunello Riserva 1998 although well bedded-in, the savoury-sweet character of roasted meat and rosemary, with fine-grained tannins wrapped round the compote fruit core, showed it had plenty of life left...
Apple and chestnut strudel with sultanas and pine nuts: The noble strudel, manna of the ancient Etruscans (possibly) was fruity and nutty rather than sweet and cloying which meant it was the perfect foil for the excellent passito Botrys (Malvasia/Moscato/a little Sauvignon) Vino Dolce 1999 which heather-honeyed and coppery palate sung out at the meal's conclusion.
As well as Alan, thanks and credit must go to Patrick (manager) and Carlo (head sommelier) for their hard work and the smooth-running of the evening, allowing Wine Chap to meander between tables, swirl a wine glass, brow-furrowed, and proffer unsolicited opinions about the contents to guests previously enjoying animated conversation. Well - as I said, its sometimes the little extras that make the difference....
Sartoria, 20 Savile Row W1 020 7534 7000
NB - all wines from A Moveable Feast ltd http://www.amfwine.com/
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