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Theo Randall at the Intercontinental:
As an inveterate food blogger I go out a lot. It’s easy to feel blasé about some invitations, another pizza place, a hotel restaurant focussing on seasonality and locality… but when you get the call to an event at Theo Randall’s refurbished eponymous restaurant in the Intercontinental Hotel in Park Lane you sit up and take notice. Quite simply he is the best chef serving Italian food in London today and a decent chap to boot. He was known for running the kitchen at The legendary River Café and then ten years ago took the opportunity to open his own space within the Intercontinental Hotel. Theo told me he felt that the previous look had been a bit too corporate (although I loved the open kitchen and will never forget his enthusiasm whilst showing me his then new ovens). The updated design is very contemporary Italian with lots of marble and soft olive and grey tones. There are two private dining rooms, sommeliers tables as well as kitchen tables so there is lots of opportunities for cheffy interacting if you so wish.The event starts with a drinks reception in the Private Dining Room. A few barrel-aged Negronis, courtesy of dashing Head Sommelier Vittorio Gentile, and some great aperitivis (including the BEST deep-fried courgettes) later it was time that we moved onto the food demo.Theo was cooking a courgette risotto for us using Aparelo, the most exclusive brand of Carnaroli rice from the Po valley. To make risotto the Theo way start off by frying the rice in olive oil at high temperature, almost toasting it, with 80g rice per portion in a straight-sided pan. Then fry some finely chopped onions in the olive oil. Add some hot chicken stock little by little and stir continuously. Add some blanched courgettes continuing to cook at a very high temperature. Add garlic and salt then lots of Parmesan and butter and at the end throw your risotto around to blend the flavours and starch. It should be quite wet and al dente taking about 25 minutes in all.After three helpings I can definitively say that it was creamy, rich and fragrant. A bit like Nigella Lawson…And then it was time to sample dishes from the new menu which Theo assured us was really a tweaked version of the previous one with old favourites jostling for attention with new dishes. The table was laden with beautiful Focaccia and Bruschetta.First up were Capesante (beautifully cooked and seasoned pan-fried Scottish Scallops with sage, chilli, anchovy and herbs). They were plump, firm, rich, sweet and juicy and perfectly offset by the salt, heat and vegetal tones of the accompaniments. To toast the scallops we drank a perfectly matched 2013 Don Chisciotte organic Fiano from Campania.To make his pasta Theo imports his eggs, flour and water from Italy and when you taste it you realise why. Ravioli of cime di rapa (turnip greens) with Sherpa ricotta and sage butter were so silky, soft and luxuriant that I’m getting quite emotional as I write this. Great pasta has that effect on me-I know it’s ridiculous…To aid its gustatory journey we sipped a 2014 Terre Silvate from Ancona in the Marche, a Verdichio and Trebbiano blend from Ancona brimming with salt and minerality and mushroom and truffle on the nose.Arrosto di Faraona was a wood roasted and boned Guinea fowl stuffed with prosciutto di Parma, thyme, mascarpone and lemon zest on pagnotta Bruscetta with new season Italian peas. It was moist and very tasty with the herbs, meat and peas combining to give a real sense of gutsy rural Italian gastronomy. The Ligurian red Dolce Aqua, made from the local rossese grape, was fresh and fruity-similar to a Pinot Noir- and again a lovely food/wine pairing.Mixed vegetables and beans were highlight on their own with intense flavours and textures jostling for your attention.Torta Caprese is a chocolate and almond cake from the island of Capri with a rich chocolate flavour and wonderful grainy texture. It was served with a creamy roasted almond ice cream and a raisin, luscious glass of a 2010 Recioto della Valpollicella, a sweet red made from the passito (dried grapes).
If Theo isn’t available to give you a personal risotto cookery demonstration I strongly urge you to sell all your possessions and to go and eat at his restaurant as the food is wonderful and with so many horrors in the world today we all need to experience good things as often as possible.
Theo Randall at The Intercontinental
One Hamilton Place