Last night a sleep deprived chef made me fall in love with game all over again. After some shaky experiences with too pungent meats, I was slightly ambivalent about eating it. But the accomplished cooking of Toto at the Italian Supper Club reignited my passion for wild meats, birds in particular.
Toto, who became a father three weeks ago (hence the lack of sleep) , together with his friend Silvio, who was curating an excellent wine selection, welcomed about 30 of us in a warehouse studio near Hackney Central. Toto told us this time he got away with convincing his pal and the rest of the team (Amelia, Michele and Chiara) to cook up a meat-only feast. And confessed this absence of vegetarian option made him really excited about yesterday’s menu.
And boy what a meal he prepared. The evening kicked off with some game pate canapés served on brioche bread accompanied by a glass of prosecco. A promising start, with the pate’s earthy tones well balanced by the brioche’s sweetness and by the slight tanginess of some lightly pickled vegetables.
Then it was the turn of the first pasta dish of the night: some mighty grouse cappelletti, their very rich taste offset by an aromatic whisky broth and fresh celeriac purée and complemented by toasty coffee crumbs.
But it was the rigatoni with giblets that really converted me to the camp of game lovers again. This dish is the proof that with skillful cooking game can give delicate results, layered flavours that entice you and leave you wanting for more. Giblets were just lightly cooked in butter and garnished with fresh mint which lifted and lightened up the dish. I would be happy eating this every day.
Before the main course Silvio did the rounds with a decanter full of a verbena infused game broth. I was intrigued by how rich yet aromatic it was, a cross between a sturdier version of a chicken broth and a herbal tea, comforting yet almost medicinal: every sip taken from the shot glass it was served in felt like it had life-giving properties. Like he did with the unexpected pairing of mint with giblets, Toto showed how you can lift game out of its earthy base and dress it in elegant clothes by lending it fresher and more fragrant flavours.
The meat dish, mallard breast and leg served with pumpkin purée and the above mentioned game broth, was incredibly good too. I loved the sauce and finally we had some bread to scoop it up, something I really missed with the rigatoni dish, when I was left scraping the plate with my fork, desperate to prolong the joy of the flavours.
The dessert was a classic neapolitan baba, a soft muffin-like spongy cake, served with buttermilk, Piedmontese hazelnuts and fig. It was substantial yet not sickly sweet, the right ending for a meal that altered forever my perception of game. From my native Langhe hills where hunters still reign supreme, I had to come all the way to an east London warehouse for two guys from Milan to change my mind about this sort of food.
The wines matched the meal in every respect: a high quality natural selection from Tuscany, Sicily, Marche, Umbria and Campania, there was a wine to fit every dish, from fresh Cortese to complex Nobile di Montepulciano, all the way to the sweet Marsala. I have hopes we can work together in this respect, perhaps seeing some of my father’s Castello di Neive wines in their selection soon. We’ll stay in touch, who knows.
In any case I am sure I’ll be going to more of their events. These guys definitely are THE Italian Supper Club in London. Hats off to them.