Sicilian Tasting Menu at Evolutione, Hotel Xenia, Kensington:
London is full of boutique hotels, many with capable but not always exciting restaurants. . How should a well positioned but relatively unknown hotel create something of a buzz about their own chef? Only the brave would go the route of Hotel Xenia, importing a top Italian guest chef each month to cook alongside the resident head chef, presenting a menu of regional Italian food. I was invited along with a whole group of press and bloggers to the first of the series. We arrived to be treated to a glass of fizz and some stunning canapes including platefuls of stuffed dattorini tomatoes. Meanwhile, in one corner of the room, Pastry Chef Manuele Franscesco was preparing canoli and what turned out to be a sponge and coffee ricotta filled dessert.
The first guest chef, Pietro D’Agostino, runs Michelin starred restaurant, La Capinera in Taormina, Sicily. Having spent a week or so learning to cook in Sicily, I was curious to see what would be on the menu. True to my own experience, the menu was fish based, although even under the watchful eye of Carla our tutor, I don’t think I could have produced anything close to the food we were served.
It was hard not to over indulge in the breads and olive oil that started the meal. A beautiful Sicilian olive oil complemented a variety of Italian breads.
A glass of Costantino DaEtna Bianco accompanied a series of fish dishes. Noodles scallops was a rather pretty ribbon like noodle of scallop dressed with orange and micro herbs and served with a touch of raspberry puree. I loved this innovative and well flavoured mouthful, created by resident chef Andrea Angeletti.
King prawns, a stunning plate of lightly pickled onions with an almond and orange garnished with edible flowers was an immaculately presented dish which tasted even better than it looked. Gambero Rosso are a Sicilian delicacy, fished by net from deep waters and with a distinctive melting texture. This and the next dish of black cod was the work of visiting chef Pietro D’Agostino.
I loved the contrast of texture between the waxy potatoes and the soft cod. The dish was delicate and carefully put together, a garnish of tomato, capers and olives topping the cod, potatoes on a light lettuce puree.
Just pasta turned out to be a stunning plate of seafood ravioli served with a seafood broth that I think might have had just a hint of saffron, Sicilian wild fennel and pistachios. Again the work of resident chef, Andrea Angeletti, it really did bring Italy to London.
By now we were enjoying a glass of rose wine, DaEtna Rosato, which had the kind of depth of flavour that comes from the heat and sunshine of Sicily. It’s easy to forget that this Italian island is actually further south than Tunisia.
Our final course was a dish of turbot with a tiny artichoke, calamari crisps and roast aubergine. Served with a glass of Aitho rosso 2012 DOC, while this dish looked stunning on the plate it was perhaps the least successful of the evening. Accompanied by a glass of Aitho Rosso 2012, mine nevertheless disappeared with lightening speed. I loved the pairing of red with with Turbot too.
Pre-dessert and Dessert were served with Madorvin Bianco, aromatizzato alla mandorla – an almond infused sweet wine. We started with a kind of pannacotta filled with a citrussy semi-freddo and topped with a sugared almond. This was just the pre-dessert!
The dessert turned out to be something close to a posh tiramisu with a light coffee ricotta cream sandwiched into layers of sponge. Very light and very delicious.
While there were a few glitches in service, the evening in its entirety was excellent. For the most part the food was stunning, well balanced and a great fine-dining demonstration of the kind of dishes I enjoyed in Sicily.
Producing a fine dining menu for a full room, all needing service at exactly the same time, is a real challenge. I’m not sure how the future events will be scheduled, but I urge you to find out because the events are priced at just £65 a head including a welcome aperitif.
The schedule for the evenings, from 7pm onward:
21st April Mario Demuro – Basilicata
26th May Teresa Buongiorno – Puglia
24th June Luca Collami – Liguria
14th July Andrea Incerti – Emilia-Romagna
8th September Donato Episcopo – Veneto
21st October Paolo Barrale – Campania
25th November Stefano Masanti – Lombardia
If you’d like to try for yourself, mail Stephanie at hotel Xenia – firstname.lastname@example.org