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.

Aldo Zilli at Leicester San Carlo.     (photo: REDPIX/Jason Senior)

Aldo Zilli at Leicester San Carlo. (photo: REDPIX/Jason Senior)

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.

Chilli garlic squid

Chilli garlic squid

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.

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Hand-made chocolate pasta (REDPIX/Jason Senior)

 

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Cutting pasta with “guitar strings”

 

Dover sole

Dover sole

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.

 

King’s Arms, Wing

March 30, 2011

Driving back to Leicester from Lincolnshire I was wondering what to do about lunch, when it hit me. I’d been meaning for many months to get out to the Kings Arms at Wing and here was a perfect opportunity for a quiet midweek lunch.  This characterful Rutland Inn has a great reputation for its game and for its nose to tail, everything home-produced or locally made ethos. With an onsite smoke house this applies to all the smoked produce and charcuterie as well as breads, stocks, chutneys etc.

With the rain begining to pour outside I fancied something comforting and picked the leg of hare from a specials board.  It was lovely  – cooked sous-vide it was as tender as a leg could be and oozed gamey richness. It was not even the star of the plate though, with the  bang on season purple spouting broccoli being simply outstanding.  There’s been a lot of hype about this vegetable this year and this stuff almost seemed to justify it – lightly cooked, slightly sweet with an almost meaty texture, it was the antithesis of “eat yer greens they’re  good for you”.  Beautiful red cabbage, curly kale, green beans, smooth mash and proper gravy completed a lovely dish for just over a tenner.  

The landlady sweet talked me into a desert but I was glad she did.  A pastry chef  just back from Denmark was on fine form she assured me and I tried her suggestion of the raspberry tart.  Made from preternaturally thin, crisp pastry it contained sweet fresh raspberries swirled together with coulis and creme patisserie. Accompanying raspberry sorbet lacked a bit of punch but it didn’t really matter, the tart was a compelling enough item.

So off I sped off feeling very well fed and with a pack of home-smoked pancetta to boot. Result. Keen to go back and try the full menu now.  How can you not warm to place offering a starter of  “Duo of Pilton Mangalitsa – set brawn, crispy cheek, smoked tomato & celeriac remoulade”?

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