For those of us not fluent in Italian, and that includes me, Harrods has kindly given us a new phrase to look up. It`s wonderfully simple, and quite poetic: Stars of Stars. Five Italian chefs, boasting 13 Michelin stars between them, each have a month`s guest spot at Harrods ‘Staff Canteen’ which started in September, and runs through January next year.
November`s maestro is Gennaro Esposito who owns the two star 7th century watchtower ‘Torre del Saracino’ overlooking the Amalfi coast. The view from Harrods basement kitchen might not be quite as edifying, but doesn’t seem to have put him off his stroke.
You might think that lunching at a two star Michelin establishment is a bit of an extravagance, best left for anniversaries, wedding proposals, and difficult conversations with recalcitrant bank managers. Well, it is a bit, but not too madly.
Four courses and an amuse bouche come in at £65, or £85 paired with some splendid wines, and an unexpected small glass of beer.
My notes tell me the Aperitivo of Grana Padano Flakes and Prosciutto was, “salty and gruff,” a bit of an unexpected description of cheese, but one that sprung into my head. There`s a flaky rough-hewn feel to Grana Padano that derives from the sea salt, and it shines through. Trento DOC Ferrari maximum brut, a champagne look-alike partnered this, along with some mini baguette, Tuscan bread and an olive oil so golden that it looked halfway to the colour of rapeseed.
Time for my bouche to be amused. Along comes a piece of art about six centimeters long. A red pepper ice cream, surmounted with chopped pistachio, nestling on a bed of olive tapenade. It was not sweet, not heavily seasoned, nor too punchy on the flavours, but it had presence. There was an interesting after-lingering of flavours that came through as the ice cream melted, and the bouche was perhaps intrigued more than outright amused. I also sneaked in another slice of that splendid Tuscan bread.
I’m looking at my menu, but it’s time to stop reading. Cheffy, obviously bored with working only 16 hours a day, has decided to drop an extra course in. Some exotic fish, sandwiching an almond cream centre is set upon a green olive soup, and has a shaved fennel hairdo with assorted slivers of something I neglected to note. Fabulous! You can’t beat an extra treat on the house, especially when it tastes this good.
I was also developing a taste for blondes with hot red lipstick, or at least the one who kept floating past our table. Effortless service (though to be fair, it wasn’t too packed when we arrived) every dish explained, and charming. Take a bow Yvette, and bring me the Mediterranean Rockfish and Shellfish Stew with Pasta please. Initially I counted five types of pasta; Madame got to six before the Maître D arrived and put us out of our misery. In this little bowl were ten different types, some in miniature. Attention to detail, or a bit obsessive? I doubt there’s a Michelin chef who isn’t a bit of both, but it makes what has now become a tasting menu that little bit more special. No condiments are supplied at the table, but this dish exemplified why; the gurnard and cuttlefish engendered an authentic briny feel that was not salty, and you felt right by the sea. The fruity Gavi DOCG was a great wine for it too.
Lemon Panna Cotta, the world’s smallest walnut biscuit, and extra virgin olive oil. Sounds a bit like one of those TV programmes where you have been dealt the slightly odd straw on the ingredients front. I couldn’t help wondering if someone had accidently spilt some oil on the desserts one day and thought, “Hmm, that ain`t halfa badda,” or whatever the Italian equivalent is, or whether this was a bit of Heston-like science. To put them together is no doubt daring, to serve a wine glass of Moretti La Rossa beer with it is either inspired, or barmy. I like my desserts, but this one’s difficult to analyse. It falls between conventional sweet, and the savoury of a cheese plate, having elements of both. Another intriguing dish. Strangely, the beer worked with it, but I probably would have dropped the olive oil topping.
Coffee. In a cup, poured. We are back in the familiar, but it’s been a great tour, and an absorbing lunch. If you are in need of a quick, ‘pit stop’ or fancy a hearty bowl stew forget it, but if you have a couple of hours and would like to explore some flights of culinary pizazz then it’s a great way to spend the afternoon.
Stelle di Stelle at Harrods. Reservations on 020 7893 8700
December’s chef is Georgio Pinchiorri, January sees Enrico Crippa in the hot seat.