Outside it’s wet and grizzlingly damp, and there’s a medium-Arctic edge to the rain. There might not be a bad time to be at Diciannove, the Italian restaurant inside the Crowne Plaza Hotel, but this is a particularly good time for a hit of Tuscan warmth.
We’re here for a four course showcase of Alessandro Bay’s Tuscan menu – one in the Regional Gourmet Menu sequence at Diciannove, run in parallel with their usual offering. Upcoming menus will cover specialities from Veneto in May, and Puglia in June – further details and booking here – but this evening, it’s Tuscan to the hilt.
Now head chef at Dicannove, Bay spent a decade working under Giorgio Locatelli, and his own menus have the same emphasis on seasonal dishes and Italian tradition. The menu this evening starts with triglie alla Livornese, red mullet scattered with cherry tomatoes, olives and bright olive oil. The wines we’re served are matched with each dish by sommelier Livio Italiani: for the mullet, a Vernaccia di San Gimignano from the Castellani estate.
Italiani talks us through the reasons for his choices, and drops nonchalant knowledge about how to choose wines, match them with food and ignore other people’s opinions on the subjective question of what makes a wine enjoyable. The things his choices for this menu have in common are: they’re all from Tuscan estates; they’re all compellingly good and dangerously easy to drink.
Hot on the heels of the red mullet: a papardelle with duck ragout, the pasta from the batch made fresh every morning at Diciannove – served with a Chianti Rufina – and a wild boar stew with small, roasted chunks of potato to soak it up, matched with the dark, earthy Le Sughere di Frassinello. And for dessert, a slice of panforte as sticky and rich and chewy as it needs to be to stand up to the sweetness of the vin santo it’s served with.
We have feasted like kings. The sort of kings, specifically, that need a sedan chair and four burly servingmen to make it the length of the palace. But the lack of restraint was ours. And the dose of Tuscan sunshine, sticky panforte and dangerously good wine, all Diciannove’s.
Diciannove, Crowne Plaza Hotel, 19, New Bridge Street, EC4V 6DB. 0207 4388052. Website.