Monday, 22 November 2010

Wine Chap truffle and wine evening at Polpo

With truffle season in full flow, last week I was lucky enough to be invited to the latest WineChap Eno Club dinner – a Piedmont inspired truffle fest at Polpo in Soho, hosted by WineChap's flamboyant frontman Tom Harrow.

The ten course epicurean epic began with a trio of starters: deliciously textured and creamy chopped chicken liver with truffled leeks, a salty, gooey, potato and parmesan crochetta and a crunchy wild mushroom crostino, which were matched with a light, playful Langhe Arneis Nieve 2009 from Castello di Nieve. We were off to a sensational start.

Dressed in a pastel pink shirt accessorized with a clipped beard, the dapper, dandified Harrow, who was last week voted one of London's most influential people for his hugely successful WineChap iPhone app that irreverently analyses the wine lists of London's top restaurants, introduced each of the wines with an anecdote. He was due to fly out the next morning to northern Italy to take part in the famous White Truffle of Alba auction, where Decanter's Asia contributing editor, Jeannie Cho Lee, forked out a staggering €105,000 for a 900g truffle.

The bacchanalian feast continued with a trio of dishes laced with white Alba truffles, beginning with fresh taglierini with butter, which the waiter elegantly furnished with finely grated truffle, then moving on to the tastiest risotto I've ever experienced: scallop and fennel, dotted with white truffles. Soft, rounded, creamy and rich, yet with a freshness from the fennel, it was expertly cooked, and quickly devoured. The accompanying fennel, curly endive and almond salad was equally exquisite - light, freshy and lemony, with a nutty backbone, I could have munched a bottomless bowl of it.

The trio was matched with a sherbety Gavi di Gavi 2008, which Tom described as 'Chablis on a Vespa', and a glinting, ruby Villa Saparina Roero Andre 2006, that came in a curious bottle shaped like a Roman amphora, and sang of sour cherries.

Harrow believes that, rather than due to the terroir and growing conditions, northern Italy has a strong red wine culture because of the meat heavy cuisine –whites just wouldn't stand up. Moving on to the main event, both the food and wine went up a notch on the flavour intensity scale. First we tried calves liver and polentia bianca infused with truffle oil, which, although well cooked, was not to my taste.

But the succeeding grilled sliced flank steak, porchini cream and black truffle was the culinary apogee of the evening. Soft, juicy, heady, salty, sexy - I was in food heaven. The steak was accompanied by deliciously crispy mini roast potatoes that glowed like nuggets of gold. On the wine front, we tried a trio of double decanted Nebbiolos - Italy's answer to Pinot Noir according to Tom. First up was a Castello di Nieve Barbaresco 2006 – the wine served at Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes's wedding, which was firm but feminine, with notes of rose, licorice, sour cherry and mint - Cruise has good taste!

We then tried Sperino Lessona 2006, which went divinely well with the meat. It has an opulent nose of sour cherry, and a voluptuous, full, spicy body. Rougher round the edges than the Barbaresco, it had something of the rogue about it; masculine to the Barbarescos feminine. We ended on a high note with Brovia Barolo 2004, which was rich and opulent, with notes of black cherry, plum and violets wrapped around huge, bear hug tannins. Dense and long on the palate, it had a treacly, minty finish - a most intriguing wine.

Desert was an exiting affair - beginning with sticky fig and goat's cheese bruschetta with walnuts, truffle and honey that was so exquisitely textured and flavoured (crunchy, nutty, savoury and sweet), I had to close my eyes in the pure pleasure of it all. We moved on to panettone and truffle honey ice cream, which matched incredibly well with the marmalade fuelled Arneis Passito and smelt like warm waffles.

After such epicurean heights, a small group of us wound down in the Groucho Club drinking espresso Martinis and discussing Danish cooking and the merits of brogues beneath a neon pink Tracy Emin scribble mounted on the wall. I called for a carriage at midnight, but a few hardy souls soldiered on. The next morning, a friend emailed to say that Damien Hirst and Fergus Henderson showed up shortly after I left and sunk a few bottles with them. I suppose that's the trick to life - knowing when the right time to leave the party is...

Wine Chap host regular Eno Club dinners. To find out about their latest events, visit:

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