Grana Padano, sometimes wrongly cited as the poorer, milder brother to Parmesan was being celebrated a few weeks ago at one of London's top Italian restaurants L'Anima.
Being a big fan of both the milder umami and crystal crunch of the texture of said cheese I decided to go along. L'Anima has been on my list of places to visit for a little while now, it regularly appears in critics favourite restaurant lists who cannot understand why it hasn't been awarded a Michelin star, so along with the promise of a cheese based special menu, it was a perfect excuse to visit.
The restaurant itself is set near Liverpool st, set apart from the usual drag and more in the middle of big offices and high rises.
Being one of the first sat for the evenings service, we were given all of the servers attention, with the obligatory fresh focaccia from the kitchen quickly brought out with a sharp and fruity olive oil to chew over while choosing our cheesy poison from the menu.
The wine list is overwhelmingly large, and selection of a companion for our meals was not helped by the waiter (no sommelier present it seemed) only being able to point us to a page with the restaurants recommendations. As it was a non celebratory Wednesday night after work we didn't fancy going with the £75 bottle he suggested, so a quick whizz around google soon provided the answer instead :)
Food ordered, we sat back and giggled at 'Hey Jude' tunelessly murdered by the increasingly inebriated suits next door, sadly they were soon replaced by a more skilled if slightly less entertaining tickler of the ivories.
Our starters arrived, Aubergine cream, stracciatella, trout Caviar & 18 month old Grana Padano ice cream for Henry and a slightly less adventurous Charcoal Diver scallops with n'duja, Grana Padano reserve and crispy senise peppers for me.
My finely sliced scallops were delicate and sweet, the peppers provided a little fire below this which became a pleasant burn towards the end and the crunchy sage and gran padona wafers provided a welcome lift in both texture and umami levels.
Now I must admit, I was a little bit of a coward when it came to the fish roe/cheese ice cream/creamy aubergine combo starter- I like to think I am quite adventurous when it comes to food, but I ended up ordering the 'safe' scallop dish.
Well I hold my hands in the air, I was wrong- so, so wrong! A tentative mouthful from proffered spoon revealed a little eel sliver of smokey aubergine, a delightfully cold and rich cheese milkshake with crunchy cheese sprinkles followed by a salty pop of the roe. A multitude of emotions from a spoonful of food is witnessed!: Fear! Surprise! Delight! The 'mmm' moment where in your head you are in pleasures home- mine is sat on a warm sandy beach, sand between toes, sun warmed, Smetanas The moldau rising to a crescendo.... *Snap* Moral; Always choose something on the menu you think you may not enjoy- leave the safest options alone on occasion!
For our mains, we chose the same dish, each wanting more a light repast than a midweek blow out.
Home cured hake with candied figs, tomato emulsion, Grana Padano Reserva crisps and tarragon with green beans and roasted vegetables on the side.
Although the flavours and the textures in this dish were well balanced and everything tasted delightful, it failed to set my world on fire like the starters had done. Weirdly the green beans were some of the best I've tasted in a while however- gently sauteed with garlic and shallots, they retained their vibrant colour and a nice crunch to them.
Being a little full at this point we regretfully opted out of pudding, I was inspired to try some more salty/sweet cheese combinations but sadly I only had room left for a little biscotti :(
Not until I have taken a photo Henry!!
In summary we had a luscious meal with some strokes of genius, service was great too. I am more than a little intrigued to come back again and try some more of Francesco Mazzei's wonderful take on Italian food.
1 Snowden St Broadgate West, London EC2A 2DQ