Have you ever been to Sicily? John and I went last year and we loved it. One of the best parts of our trip? The food, of course. From dark chocolate and pistachio gelato sandwiched between slices of fluffy brioche to pane (the extent of my Italian!) served straight out of the oven in a former farmhouse granery, Sicilian cuisine is definitely something special.
On Wednesday, I was invited by Zomato to sample a six-course tasting menu at a guest chef event held at Evoluzione restaurant. The restaurant sits within Hotel Xenia in Earl's Court - an area of London I don't venture to much (except for London Book Fair once a year, though it's now held in Olympia) but am always curious to explore.
I was excited to hear that one of the chefs, Pietro D'Agostino, has a restaurant in Taormina, Sicily called La Capinera, which specializes in serving organic and gluten-free food. We stayed in Taormina (pictured above) for a few days and, while chock-full of tourists during high season, its coastline is beautiful and there are plenty of great vantage points to spot the moody, active volcano - Mt. Etna.
Which brings me to the wine at Evoluzione ...
I was a little too busy chatting (which happens at most Zomato meetups!) to Jesse and Jasiminne to notice that our wine glasses were being continually swapped. This was, after all, a tasting menu with wine pairing, and I was excited to see that the wines had all been sourced from the Etna region (I get excited when I actually know where things are - this rarely ever happens). I'm not usually a fan of rosé, but the Rosato we tried was really lovely - light and smooth on the palate. Of course, the Aitho Rosso 2012 was delicious, as all red Italian wines usually are! But my favorite was the dessert wine - the Mandorvin Bianco aromatizzato alla mandorla (almond). Dessert wine isn't for everyone (John hates it) but I love it, despite my low tolerance for alcohol! I'd have sips of Tokaji after every meal if I could ...
As for the rest of the evening, well, I'd love to share with you some photos of the beautiful food, if you'd like to see:
We began our journey with an amuse bouche of "noodles scallops" by Resident Michelin-starred Chef Andrea Angeletti - a scallop which had been cleverly carved into a noodle shape, with hints of rocket and orange. Oh, but wait! Before that, we were treated to a selection of delicious bread and extra virgin olive oil for dipping, which had a subtle but lovely orange flavor, lending it a very fragrant taste.
Aside from the dessert, the king prawns with an onion (more like a pickled radish?) salad, with almond and orange sauce, was probably my favorite course. I mean, it's beautiful! But more importantly, it was delicious. The crunch and sourness of the pickled radish offset the sweetness and tender quality of the prawns. Additionally, I really appreciated the artistry and skill it took to execute this particular dish - almost too pretty to eat. Almost.
The black cod, served on a bed of cubed potatoes, lettuce, and capers with marsala wine, wasn't a standout dish for me. The cod was tender, but the flavors were a little underwhelming. The sundried tomato and capers gave the dish the excitement it needed, but even that flagged a little.
I'm a sucker for seafood ravioli, so nearly clapped my hands with glee when this dish appeared before me. Tender and cooked perfectly al dente, the plate included Sicilian wild fennel and pistachio from Bronte, a sweet little town (known for its pistachios!) that John and I drove through during our visit to the Sicilian countryside.
I wish I could say that I loved the turbot that came next, but unfortunately, I was unable to finish the fish since it was very undercooked in the middle (which Jasiminne also experienced) - so much so, that I had trouble cutting through it. I left it on my plate, but finished the calamari, artichoke, and veggies on the side. Sad!
BUT. But! I had a sneak peek at the menu again at this point and saw the words, "Pre-dessert" and "Dessert", prepared by Pastry Chef Manuele Francesco from Siracusa.
Oh, how I love when two desserts are on the menu. Siracusa, or Syracuse, is a historic city in Sicily known for its strong ties to Greek culture and history - in fact, it's the birthplace of Archimedes, for all you classicists out there (I know, like, two).
I'd love to know what this was (in detail, I mean, as it resembled a panna cotta) because it was the ultimate. The center was even more intriguing - with hints of almond and praline (that's a sugared almond on top!) and an icy cold element that left us all scratching our heads. One of the best desserts I've had in a long, long time (but then again, I usually can be found eating Ben & Jerry's straight out of the carton).
And this! I want to call it a peanut butter and jelly cake sandwich, but it was most definitely NOT. It was also something intriguing and delicious (not a fan of the liquer-filled chocolate, though!) and beautiful (yes, I've made an effort to ask the restaurant and no, they haven't gotten back to me yet at the time of writing this post - perhaps someone else who attended that evening who's reading this post will enlighten me?).
And ... if you've made it through all the way to the end of this post, well, then, congratulations. Here's a picture of me in action, courtesy of Jasiminne (this is blogging IRL).
Thank you to Evoluzione, Hotel Xenia, Nuffnang UK, and Zomato UK for hosting an incredible evening! The Sicilian Tasting Menu at Evoluzione is the first of seven guest chef events at Hotel Xenia, and will be priced at £65 per person.