Aldo’s back in town
November 18, 2013
Regular readers may remember me enthusing last year after being invited to try a set of new dishes prepared by celebrity chef Aldo Zilli for the San Carlo group. Well, happy days, it’s happened again.
Like many leading chefs, Zilli found there was a limit to the punishing hours required to keep restaurants at the top of their game. So he sold up to spend more time with the proverbial and to concentrate on consultancy – hiring out his knowledge, expertise and compelling passion to others. The fit with San Carlo seems a really genuine one. At our lunch in Leicester this weekend he called the group’s founder Carlo di Stefano “a genius” for building up a £60 million turnover business and keeping it in family hands, making it nimble and responsive as a business partner. There’s seems to be genuine admiration and respect on both sides.
So he’s now styled consigliere to the group – a trusted adviser dispensing disinterested guidance. This includes popping up to Leicester on occasions to inspire the chefs, present new dishes and generally give everyone a lift. This time round me and a few other local food writers got to share in the bounty.
We started with some wild mushroom and truffle crostini, followed with more of the sensational garlic and chilli squid I enjoyed last year. This, said Aldo, was the best selling dish at his Zilli Fish restaurant and you can see why – incredibly tender squid with zingy chilli and crunchy little flakes of garlic (simmered in milk for five minutes apparently – takes some of the fierceness out.) We were even given a little master class in preparing the squid for grilling.
Another little demonstration focused on making chocolate pasta – a savoury version that would be later served up with a phenomenally rich and gamey hare ragu. Then there was fregola (pasta from Sardinia – kind of like giant cous cous) served up with langoustines and clams (plus a generous grating of bottarga – intensely-flavoured cured cod roe) and simply grilled Dover sole with butter, spinach and capers.
Zilli’s dishes seem to sum up what’s great about Italian cooking – great ingredients, done simply and cooked either fresh and quick or long and slow as needed. These and other dishes will be appearing as specials on San Carlo’s menus over the winter – and at lunchtimes in the shared, small-plate “cicchetti” format that is increasingly successful at other restaurants in the San Carlo group.