Aldo Zilli and Prezzo on hunt for new “super chef”

6 May

Celebrity chef Aldo Zilli and Paul Lewis, Prezzo chief executive have launched a competition to find the UK’s great, undiscovered Italian chef.

Entrants have to design a new pasta dish to impress Zilli and Lewis. The prize is a three day trip to Zilli’s cookery school in Italy, a private masterclass with Zilli in London, and the honour of having the winning dish added to Prezzo’s menu.

Budding chefs just need to send in the recipe of their dish, together with a photo of themselves with their creation, to: competitions@prezzorestaurants.co.uk. The competition opens on Monday 9 May for two weeks.

Regional winners will be chosen, who will then be invited to London for the live final, where they will need to recreate their signature dish as well as create a new dish from undisclosed ingredients to be chosen by Zilli.

“The winner of this competition will have to create the perfect pasta dish. It could be an interpretation of a classic Italian recipe, like Spaghetti alla Carbonara, or something entirely new,” said Zilli. “The winning dish will have to have absolutely all elements correct from the ingredients, sauce and of course the pasta itself so that it both looks and tastes great.”

Monica Bonvicini sculpture chosen for Olympic Park

30 Apr

Known as much for splicing architecture with gender issues as for her artworks, Venice-born artist Monica Bonvicini has won a coveted commission for a permanent public sculpture at the Olympic Park.

The sculpture, which will be installed on the Handball Arena plaza, to the north of the Olympic Park, consists of three 9m high letters spelling the word “RUN”. Bonvicini’s design was selected by the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA) last year and planning permission has now been granted for construction of the artwork, which will begin in autumn and will be finished before the end of the year.

The giant letters will be constructed of stainless steel and glass, and are designed to change appearance according to the light available. In daylight the art work will have a mirror effect, while at night the letters will appear transparent and will be lit up by internal LED lighting.

Monica Bonvicini lives and works in Berlin, and has been professor of Sculpture and Performative Art at the Akademie der bildenden Künste in Vienna since 2003. She has worked across many media including drawings, sculpture, video and photographs. Her sculpture “She Lies” was installed permanently in Oslo Harbour opposite Norway’s national Opera House.

Take a look at this interesting interview with Monica Bonvicini by artforum.com, in which she discusses her opinions and work referencing architecture and gender issues. A selection of her work, together with more biographical information can be found at this page on Costas Voyatzis’s blog.

What do you think of Monica Bonvicini’s sculpture for the Olympic Park? How does it compare to her previous works? Leave a comment below…

Pasta and wine at Cafe Journal

29 Apr

If you’re eating a bowl of pasta surrounded by those sepia photos of Rome then you know you’re not in Italy. Clichéd photos together with the drone of the busiest end of Shoreditch High Street will soon remind you that Cafe Journal is bang in the middle of London.

The menu is divided equally between English greasy spoon grub and Italian fare comprising several antipasti and a range of pasta, risotto, fish, chicken and beef dishes. We both chose pasta dishes – I went for the Amatriciana (£6.20) – pasta in a spicy tomato sauce with pancetta. My friend opted for the Carbonara (£6.45), the famous “heart attack on a plate” – pasta in an egg, pancetta and cream sauce.

One of my pet hates is when you are given a choice of different pasta types for your dish, and here you can choose from penne, spaghetti, fusilli or tagliatelle. I am usually happy with the opportunity to personalise my meal, but in Italy, certain pasta types always go with certain sauces – carbonara is typically served with spaghetti, while arabiata is served with penne – being given the choice often implies that the chef himself is unaware of traditional combinations. However, both dishes were very good – and my amatriciana was surprisingly spicy for an Italian dish.

But I was most impressed with the wine list which consisted purely of Italian wines – 11 white and 10 red, from all the key regions of Italy; Toscana, Abruzzo, Sicilia… The house white was the Sicilian Gaio Bianco (£3.80 a glass).

There is an outdoor area at the back of the restaurant for al fresco dining in summer, but the din of the overground track opposite soon puts an end to any delusions you may be sitting in a serene Tuscan piazza. So Cafe Journal is not the most elegant restaurant in the world, but for a good plate of pasta and a glass of wine, you won’t go far wrong.

Cafe Journal, 23-24 Shoreditch High Street, London E1 6PG

Dinner at Trattoria Da Aldo

28 Apr

“Cute” is the only word that truly sums up Trattoria Da Aldo. It must be the cutest restaurant I know.

The restaurant’s irregular walls give the impression of sitting in a cave, while flickering candlelight makes the venue more intimate. The owners have hung up photos, pictures, sea shells and other trinkets on the walls, but not in a “lets-try-to-make-the-place-look-Italian” sort of way. Gentle partitions between tables create a series of little alcoves and the overall feel is of taking dinner in an elaborately decorated grotto.

The cuteness extends to the menu – photocopied from several handwritten sheets and slipped into worn plastic wallets, it looked like a forgotten school project. You can go a la carte, but being financially overstretched (as usual), my friend and I went for the set menu – three courses for just £11.

For our starters we both plumped for the polenta ai funghi. Despite being cheap and easy to make, and very much “Italian”, you rarely find polenta dishes in London’s Italian restaurants. This might be because polenta is just cheap carbohydrate, a sort of poor man’s cous-cous which doesn’t lend itself to the diverse range of dishes that pasta does. Still, the fact that I never encounter polenta was reason enough to go for it this time. The dish came – a slab of polenta, baked in tomato and mushroom sauce. Hearty rather than delicious, but polenta is never anything worth raving about.

Main courses were far more exciting. I went for the Red Mullet alla Pizzaiola – two mullet fillets served with roast potatoes and cabbage in a strong tomato sauce. My dish was good – very tasty and a generous serving, but I did covet my friend’s Crespolina alla fiorentina – a pancake stuffed cannelloni-style with spinach and ricotta, cloaked in copious amounts of cheese.

Other options for starters include garlic mushrooms, minestrone or mussels, and for your main course you could opt for spaghetti bolognaise or one of two chicken dishes. Dessert is ice cream in whatever flavour they decide to serve that day. The a la carte menu offers meat, fish and pasta dishes, but the set menu is a perfectly good option for a cheap meal out in Soho.

Satisfied after a good meal and lots of red wine, we took a break to notice the music being played – Nessun Dorma, Volare, Hey Mambo and the Godfather theme tune to name just a few. Anywhere else, I would denounce such a devotion to cheesy hits. But Trattoria Da Aldo is forgiven as it just made the place cuter still.

Trattoria Da Aldo, 51 Greek Street, London, W1D 4EH

Italian Film Festival – March 2011

2 Mar

The Italian Film Festival is taking place this March and was opened with a concert by the Nicola Piovani Quintet yesterday.

The festival has been organised by the Italian Cultural Institute and Cinecitta Luce.

From 1st-6th March a series of recent films will be screened at Cine Lumiere. These will feature Q & A sessions with directors or actors after each screening.

After the 7th March, the Italian Cultural Institute will be hosting a festival of film and food, screening Italian films of the last decade with food and wine served afterwards.

To download a programme for the Italian Film Festival, please click here.

Da Peppino – Fine Italian Restaurant in Welling

26 Feb

Da Peppino is the only Italian restaurant in the Plumstead/Welling area that I have come across, discounting Pizza Hut in Woolwich and Pizza Express in nearby Bexleyheath. And as I visit friends in the area regularly, I was quite keen to try their local Italian restaurant. 

Rather than going for the rustic, “mamma’s place” look that many Italian eateries seem to go for, Da Peppino has a classy, upmarket feel to it. By this I mean napkins which match the tablecloths, a trendy brown/white colour scheme running throughout and waiters dressed in uniform. It is certainly the most elegant restaurant in the immediate area; the sort of place you go to for a special occasion or to impress somebody.

My friend and I decided to go for the set lunch menu – three courses for £12.95, including a glass of the house wine.

For our starters, we plumped for the Formaggio Fritto – deep fried brie served with cranberry sauce. I’ve eaten the same dish in a couple of Italian restaurants. There are few ways that a plate of deep-fried cheese can go wrong; here the serving was generous and the brie crispy, not soggy, so no complaints.

My main course was the Medaglione di maiale alla romana. It comprised two pieces of pork, wrapped in parma ham, and cooked in a sage and white wine sauce, served with potatoes, carrots and cabbage. This dish was faultless – the meat was perfectly cooked and the sauce a great complement to the pork.

Dessert had to be tiramisu. There are certain dishes, certain staples such as pizza Margherita, lasagne and tirumisu by which you can judge the strength of an Italian restaurant and compare it to others. If a restaurant can’t do these staples well, then there’s not much hope for the rest of the menu either. Happily, the tiramisu was delicious. Often, I complain that the chef has added too much or too little liqueur to the mixture, but here it straddled the very fine line between overpowering and undetectable.

Although I would be hard-pressed to cross London to eat there, Da Peppino is a great Italian restaurant in an area which lacks good places to eat out (Italian or otherwise). The large size of the premises means the restaurant can often be a bit empty, although this does mean you are pretty much guaranteed a seat even on busy weekends.

For good food and reasonable prices, Da Peppino is definitely a place to visit if you’re in the south east.

Da Peppino, 125-129 Bellegrove Road, Welling, Kent, DA16 3QS

Loose Cannons (Mine Vaganti) – Ferzan Ozpetek

24 Feb

Ferzan Ozpetek’s latest film, Loose Cannons, marks a break from his cinematic love affair with Rome and moves to the southern town of Lecce in Puglia.

The film follows ageing patriarch Vincenzo Cantone (Ennio Fantastichini) who is preparing to hand over the family pasta-making business to his sons Tommaso and Antonio.

The only trouble is that Tommaso, (played with sensitivity by Riccardo Scamarcio), is secretly gay and lives in Rome with his boyfriend. Unable to face the prospect of returning to life in conservative Lecce, Tommaso decides he will come out to his whole family at dinner, knowing he will be exiled from the family but will at least avoid the fate of carrying the family business on his shoulders and losing his boyfriend.

However, before he can say anything, his brother Antonio (Alessandro Preziosi) reveals his own hidden secret, causing a family row that results in him being kicked out of the house and his father collapsing with a heart attack.

Tommaso (Riccardo Scamarcio)

 

The comedy follows Tommaso as he balances running the firm, consoling his outraged family and keeping his own homosexuality a secret in case the news kills his stricken father altogether.

From this plot Ozpetek creates a comedy which weaves together all the usual clichés found in gay films about coming out – the strict father, the mother who secretly knows, nosy neighbours and Tommaso’s overtly camp friends who play straight for laughs.

There is drama too; the film conveys the sense of duty and sacrifice involved in trying to live up to family expectations, and the difficulties faced by relatives whose homophobia often stems from a fear of what the community will say. But comic dialogue, wacky characters and a rich summer setting all ensure that the film remains light-hearted and optimistic.

For those seeking a gay film that takes the debate in a new direction, you’re better off watching Lisa Cholodenko’s The Kids Are All Right, (a story of lesbian parents, their teenage children and the appearance on the scene of their sperm-donor father).  Ozpetek’s film breaks no new ground and would struggle to raise an eyebrow even in conservative Lecce where the film is based. But that is no bad thing; Loose Cannons is a touching and enjoyable film which makes light of the complications of being gay in a society where family comes first.

Loose Cannons (Mine Vaganti) – 2010 – Italy
Director: Ferzan Ozpetek
Cast: Riccardo Scamarcio, Nicole Grimaudo, Alessandro Preziosi, Ennio Fantastichini
Running time: 113 minutes
Showing: Nationwide
Certificate: 12A

An Italophile writes…

30 Jan

At last… my blog on Italian culture and lifestyle finally begins!

And it is an interesting time for Italophiles right now. London is home to thousands of young Italians working and living here, while back home, Silvio Berlusconi faces the court case that may finally unseat him…

But Italian culture remains strong. Nobody working in design or fashion can ignore Italian contributions to those fields. In terms of cuisine, London has always welcomed Italian restaurants, but we have recently seen a move towards more authentic Italian cooking. Architecture too – Renzo Piano is building Europe’s tallest building right here in London – it’s already visible on the skyline from the top of buses up and down London.

It will be interesting to see how Italy speaks to the world in the years ahead, (be that with or without Berlusconi!), and how this filters through to Italophiles here in London.

Will 2011 be the year I finally drink a cappuccino in London that matches the gorgeous coffee found in the average Roman cafe?! I live in hope…