July 11th, 2011


Oxford Symposium, Day 2. Lunch.

Lunch was insane, in such a wonderful way.

It had been designed as dinner, but had been moved to midday somewhere along the way. As a result, the amazing St Catz staff managed to move us through five courses, with five matching wines in the course of only an hour. The downside is that there was really no way to do justice to the bounty, let alone the alcohol, in so little time. Most of the dishes were served family style, which at least gave us all the option of having as little or much as we could handle. Downside of this and the swiftness is that occasionally the staff deprived us of a dish when we were still deciding whether or no to have seconds of it, because some other part of the dining hall needed it; but that's a quibble given what the staff really accomplished.

Lunch at Saturday was in honor of the 150th anniversary of the unification of Italy, a day I celebrated earlier this year in the country itself. The regione of Piacenza and the provincia of Sicily generously donated the majority of our meal. We started with antipasti, grilled vegetables, creamy olives, four variously spicy variants on salami. We moved on to plump raviolone, stuffed with ricotta and spinach and finished with olive oil and sage. The sage really made the dish, and they were a lovely shade of eggy yellow. The main was chicken cooked with white wine, and with long sprigs of rosemary.

The cheese trays were of gran padano, from an enormous wheel of it which held pride of place at a table at the front of the hall. Then there were mountains of fresh cherries, bright, juicy, and sweetly refreshing after the oils of the meal. And a sweet but well-balanced zabaglione, foamy and almost light.

And five wines! I skipped the reds, as ever, a Gigliotto "Nero d'Avola", a sparkling red wine for the antipasti; a dry sauvignon, "Perticato i Quadri" DOC Colli Piacentini for the ravioloni; a rather sweet Malvasia "Perticato Beatrice Quadri IGT Emilia"; another red with the cheese, Gutturnio "Perticato Valandrea" DOC Colli Piacentini for the cheese; and a rather better use of the malvasia grapes in a sparkling dessert wine version to accompany the zaglione - Spumante dolce "Perini & Perini". Downside, it was about as sweet as the dessert itself, reflecting rather than cutting through or adding much to it.

The hall was festively decorated with Italian flags and occasional bursts of recorded opera. I should note that the individual menus also doubled as table decoration throughout, in this case with red and green text on a white background and including an old map of the country.

P.S. Am now in Leeds.