I always feel a little guilty reviewing one-off events that have been truly amazing…because nobody else will get to enjoy them. The recent ‘All Things Italian’ dinner at St Aldhelm’s Church in Bedminster was one such event, but you’ll be pleased to know that the team behind this one (and the previous two All Things Pig dinners at the same location) have more dinner evenings up their sleeves…
Co-hosted and organised by Vincent Castellano (Castellano’s Deli), Helen Miller (Miller Design), Angie McDonald (Roaring Success) and Mike Cardwell, July 23rd’s All Things Italian dinner was the third in a series of All Things food events. If you haven’t yet made it to one of their dinners at the stunning St Aldhelm’s Church on Chessel Street, then make sure you keep an eye out for details of their All Things Moroccan evening, scheduled to take place this October (date tbc).
This was the largest event to date, with a staggering 154 diners taking their places for a six course meal at four long tables.
We sat down to peruse the menu, accompanied by an introduction to the evening from Mike and parish vicar Jack House…
…followed by a run-through of the menu from Vincent – providing us with a description of each dish and explaining the reasoning behind his menu choices – and behind his decision to import a number of the ingredients from Sicily!
We began our meal with a bruschetta topped with grilled aubergine, crunchy florets of cauliflower, firm wedges of mozzarella and a slice of semi-dried tomato, finished with a salsa verde that was delicious and almost pesto-like in its consistency. A great start to the evening that whetted our appetites, the only niggle being that the bread was toasted all the way through and rather difficult to eat!
This was followed by one of my highlights of the meal: the antipasti platter. One board between six provided us with a bowl of meatballs in a wonderfully rich tomato sauce, heaps of Vincent’s own mortadella and salami, fresh anchovies marinated in-house by the deli, olive oil and balsamic vinegar, and fresh bread from Mark’s Bread…we had to restrain ourselves from indulging in the bread too much, as we still had several courses to go!
This was accompanied by an entire, enormous artichoke for each group of six to share…delicious. It’s been ages since I’ve enjoyed an artichoke cooked whole, and our group were more than happy to while away the start of the evening by scraping every last morsel off of the leaves.
Our starter was the highlight of the meal for me. Large handmade mushroom ravioli, the pasta beautifully made and still with a satisfying amount of bite to it, the mushroom filling earthy yet sweet and complemented by the slight tang of the rich Dolcelatte cream by which it was accompanied.
It was during our starter that we were also treated to live operatic aria performances from two sopranos and their accompanying pianist, who performed a fantastic array of solos from Italian composers including Tosti, Verdi, Bellini and Puccini, finishing with a duet (in English) of Barcarolle from Offenbach’s The Tales of Hoffmann.
This was followed by our palate cleanser – a shot glass filled with a granita of those Sicilian lemons that I mentioned earlier, and topped with thin strips of lemon peel. Absolutely delicious, very refreshing and with a bit of a back story too…Vincent told me that he has memories of being back in Sicily, where his uncle used to serve a similar granita between slices of brioche.
We could hear the main course being cooked during the musical interlude…I still can’t believe that the kitchen team managed to pan sear 154 fillets of cod to such a high standard in the very small kitchen that they were working with! Everyone around me agreed that the fish was beautifully cooked, and the skin (certainly on mine) was lovely and crisp. The cod was topped with a strip of crispy pancetta, and sat on a bed of caponata – basically an Italian version of ratatouille with aubergines, peppers, onion, carrot, celery and capers. We were all a little surprised that the caponata was served cold, especially when doused in a lovely rich (and hot!) red wine gravy – the one slight disappointment of the meal.
Feeling very full by this point, we moved onto dessert, consisting of panna cotta, a fruity sauce, a large biscotti and an amazing Frangelico and hazelnut ice cream that I must try and find out the recipe for – despite being full I could have happily eaten another few scoops!
Dessert was accompanied by the tombola, for which we had purchased tickets earlier in the evening. Prizes had kindly been donated by Rosemarino, Berwick Lodge, Foyles, Mark’s Bread and Lahloo Tea, with proceeds going towards the church roof fund. Congratulations to the team, who managed to raise over £500 for the cause by the sale of tombola tickets on the night!
It may have been a long night (we arrived at 7 and left at 11.30) but it was an immensely enjoyable one: great food, great company and a fantastic atmosphere. Thanks again to Vincent and his kitchen team for the highlight of my weekend, and to the wider All Things Events team who pulled the evening together. I’ll definitely be booking myself in for the Moroccan evening in October…