Senin, 29 Juni 2015

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Franciacorta - Italy's Answer to Champagne? We Find Out.

Words & Photography by Greg Klerkx

Think of the world’s venerable winemaking nations, and Italy will surely be near the top of the list, with rich Barolo, peppery Chianti, and dozens of other venerable varietals, regions, styles and makers happily crowding the mind. Think Italian fizz, however, and that expansive, multi-hued picture often reduces to a single frame crowded with one word: Prosecco.


This ubiquitous sparkler can, of course, be lovely; it can also be, and too often is, unbalanced and one dimensional – the stuff of a thousand cheap Bellinis. Italian winemakers have long howled that there’s much more to their country’s sparkling wine scene, and so it was with great anticipation that we sat down recently for a master class featuring six Italian sparklers looking to knock Prosecco off its perch.

The fizz in question hailed from six winemakers in one of Italy’s prominent sparkling regions, Franciacorta, located in Lombardy a couple of hours’ drive from Milan. Though wine has been made here for centuries, Franciacorta sparkling wines received DOCG status – the top quality marker in the Italian wine industry – only in 1995. The rise of Franciacorta as a producer of sparkling wine since then has been precipitous: from 3,000 bottles a year half a century ago to over 15 million bottles sold last year.


There are now 113 sparkling wine producers in Franciacorta, six of which were on show at a pop-up tasting held at Andaz Liverpool Street curated by Christopher Cooper, former head sommelier of Soho House and Gordon Ramsay Group. “Everyone should know about Franciacorta,” Christopher said. “It easily rivals Champagne for quality and often beats it for value.”

We put Christopher’s words to the test with a range of sparkling styles, beginning with a Franciacorta Brut made by Antica Fratta (£28.50, Amazon.) This non-vintage style fizz was medium dry with top notes of hay and wood-smoke and a honeyed finish that was slightly sweeter than expected, though not off-puttingly so. Very low acidity made it also very drinkable, and a fine choice to start any dinner party.


Next up was a wine made in a style called Saten (‘satin’), which is unique to Franciacorta. Made only from white grapes and with slightly lower pressure, Franciacorta Saten is typically more delicate and somewhat less bubbly than other sparklers. We had a Franciacorta Saten from Castello Bonomi that seemed an appropriately silky representative of the style, with an aromatic caramel corn nose leading to a crisp feel and very blanc de blanc notes of pear and gooseberry, an excellent match for creamy dishes (and indeed we drank it with a tasty morsel of Andaz wild mushroom stuff tortellini and lobster puree to underscore the point.)


A highlight of the event was the Ca’Del Vent Blanc de Blancs Vintage 2011, a so-called ‘zero dosage’ Extra Brut with no sugar added. Non dossato sparklers have long been a favourite aperitif in northern Italy and it’s easy to see why: absolutely bone-dry, the absence of extra sugar amplifies the pure sweet-tangy flavour of the grapes, offering a lean, fresh feel and taste. Zero-dosage wines can often been astringent, but this Franciacorta Extra Brut was a revelation that I’d happily buy by the crateful.


The Bellavista Alma Cuvee, a non-vintage Franciacorta sparkling wine, was not quite as wow as the Extra Brut but has the distinct advantage of being easily purchased in the UK (£13.21, uvinum.com.) Alas, while Franciacorta sparkling wines are broadly available in the UK, many of the labels sampled here would require a trip to Italy (or paying the appropriately steep shipping cost from a UK importer.) Bellavista is good value at the price and would match well with hearty, meaty dishes – we tasted it with a portion of aged beef roast with spring onions – and would be a fine, if not outstanding, aperitif.

Gatti Enrico Vintage 2008 is a Franciacorta Brut made in what’s known as Millesimo, or ‘year-defined’, style (Mill├ęsime is the Champagne equivalent.) Most sparkling wines are made from grapes harvested in different years, but occasionally a wine-maker produces a Millesimo to highlight the quality of a particular vintage. If the Gatti Enrico is anything to go by, 2008 was very kind to Franciacorta: this was the most classically Champagne-like of the Franciacortas, in the best possible way – earthy, bready, firm and delicious.


We finished with Franciacorta La Valle Rose (£30.49, Italyabroad.com), described by Christopher as an “up and comer” in the region. Made only from Pinot Noir grapes – and with the wine left on the skins to produce its gorgeous rosy hue – this was a soft, lightly bubbling glass filled with strawberries, pear and sunshine…just the sort of thing to nudge a bit of la dolce vita into our blossoming English summer, and an excellent match with a variety of foods, including the crumbed taleggio with red pepper emulsion we were served.


As mentioned above, some of the labels represented in this tasting aren’t yet readily available in the UK. That said, many Franciacorta sparkling wines are very easily found via Ocado, Majestic, Fortnum & Mason and any number of specialty wine shops. Based on the consistency of our tasting, you’ll be well rewarded for trying any of them…and for leaving all but the finest Prosecco behind.

Selasa, 23 Juni 2015

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Shackfuyu - Creative Japanese Inspired Cooking in Soho


Name: Shackfuyu

Where: 14a Old Compton Street, London, W1D 4TJ, http://www.bonedaddies.com/shackfuyu/

Cost: The small dishes cost around £4 to £8, the larger options vary from £13.50 to £15, while dessert is priced at £6. The average food cost is around £30 to £35 per person.

About: A temporary restaurant, with a planned life span of twelve months, this latest outpost of Bone Daddies is at the Charing Cross Road end of Old Compton Street opened in February 2015, and due to close in February 2016.


With bare wood floors, walls of distressed brick or lime green, and a soundtrack of American hard rock, the restaurant serves up a range of Japanese cuisine inspired small eats, together with Japanese beers, sakes and a smattering of wines.  The aim is to change the menu every 6 weeks or so. There is a lively basement bar. The restaurant does not take reservations, but on the Saturday night we had dinner, there was fortunately no queue.


What We Ate:  We started with the yellowtail sashimi tostada with avocado shiso (£2.50 each) was made up of a crispy tortilla with crushed avocado and shiso herb (a Japanese herb which tastes like a cross between mint and basil and is also known as perilla), topped with a slice of yellowtail, a dot of Siriracha and a slice of jalape├▒o chilli. We found this underwhelming – the flavours did not quite come together and we both thought it was a tad expensive for what was being offered.


The other starter was the mackerel nanban-style (£7.80) is a dish I often serve at my Japanese and Nikkei Supper Club and while I enjoyed the tangy flavours of the nanban dressing, I would have liked a bit more chilli heat. And again we felt that at this price level we expected a bit more mackerel.


For main we had the whole sole roasted with shiso chimichurri (£15) which was the special of the night. This was excellent – perfectly cooked in the wood oven (a great inheritance by the former pizza venue Shackfuyu has taken over the premises from), with zingy and refreshing flavours from the shiso chimichurri, it was probably the best dish of the evening.


The other main was also great - USDA beef picanha, with kimchee butter (£14.50). Served with raw pickled onions, the beef was tender, well cooked and served medium rare just as ordered. I love a good Picanha (Brazil’s national cut of beef, synonymous to Churrasco or BBQ in the country where it is served simply encrusted in rock salt and grilled) and Shackfuyu was very well flavoured.


To accompany our main dishes, we shared a Mentaiko mac 'n cheese with bacon and 'cock scratchings' made of crushed deep fried chicken skin (£6.90).  Mentaiko is Japanese Pollack or cod roe, which is marinated in chillies so it becomes spicy and pinkish in colour. It is one of the main ingredients of Kyushu Island in Japan where my family comes from. Mentaiko is one of my favourite Japanese ingredients and I love it simply over white Japanese rice or in Mentaiko Spaghetti, it tastes amazing!

So of course that Shackfuyu’s Mentaiko mac ‘n chesse had to be ordered - but I found it slightly odd – I could hardly taste any Mentaiko in it, and the cock scratchings had such an overpowering flavour I could not taste anything else. This is definitely a combination of flavours that should be revisited by the restaurant.


A much better accompaniment was the beef hot stone rice (£8.30), served Korean bibimbap-style - in a hot stone bowl, with a raw egg yolk on top, and mixed at the table by our waiter. With sweetcorn, shiitake mushrooms, julienne carrots and kizami nori (shredded nori seaweed), this had a good amount of chilli and great flavours.


For dessert, we shared a portion of Kinako French toast with soft matcha ice cream (£6). A thick slice of bread soaked in custard then pan fried, this had a crisp coating of caramelised sugar with a dusting of Kinako (toasted soya bean powder) and a lovely, slightly astringent green tea ice cream.


What We Drank: Shackfuyu offers a range of beers, cocktails and wines. We started with a can of Niigata unfiltered pale ale (£4.80), and a bottle of Asahi Black (£4). After that, we moved on to Asahi beer at £4.80 per pint on draft.


Wines are available by the glass, carafe and bottle, with an exclusively New World choice of just three red and three white wines, starting at £18.50 per bottle for a white South African  Chenin Blanc and a red South African Cab Sauv. 

Likes: the special of the day, roasted whole sole with a shiso dressing was delicious, as was the USDA picanha beef, the bibimbap rice and the Kinako French toast with green tea ice cream. The staff were very friendly and seemed to understand the food and ingredients they were serving.

Dislikes: the tostadas were tiny and overpriced as was the nanban-style mackerel. I really wanted to like the Mentaiko Mac ‘n Cheese but the combination of flavours did not work for me.

Verdict: I enjoyed Shackfuyu’s creative use of Japanese ingredients for some of its dishes. Their food offerings go beyond the ubiquitous Japanese sushi and sashimi to show a number of Japanese ingredients not much known in the UK. Recommended.