Freshly back from 48 hours in Paris up to a great deal of good – the publishable moments of which included a sensational dish of broiled foie gras in a broth of baby clams – the last thing I thought I wanted was to eat a four-course meal. Let alone one that included yet more clams.
Until serendipitously Alessandro Gallenzi left a message asking me to dinner last Saturday just as I was about to pick up the phone to call him and Elisabetta to suggest we meet that evening.
In their kitchen a sauce that looked almost naughtily fresh was simmering away, giving off exquisite vapours. My satedness at once turned to lusty anticipation.
Which was not disappointed. This was undoubtedly the best spaghetti alle vongole I have ever eaten. Period, as our American friends say. The pasta was ideally al dente; the sauce tasted as good as it looked. (My pretentious comment of the evening was that food can be tasted with the eyes.) This would have been enough, but then an oven-cooked sea bream, still in its silver foil and again prepared to perfection by Alessandro, showed up, together with a small plate of cold spinach and beans. (Clever, I thought, to combine hot and cold: it seemed further to enhance the flavour of each.)
At this point my stomach, liver and various other gastronomically stressed organs had entirely forgotten about their Parisian challenges, and I was so enthusiastic about it all that I muttered something about being able to start all over again.
“Why don’t you?” Alessandro shot back. He and Elisabetta suggested that I try bean soup with rice – the rice has to be freshly cooked and be a little crunchy – a typical peasant dish of Umbria. After this enchanting and hearty broth I was ready for another main course, but it was getting late and we skipped that for a dessert which had been couriered over from Italy by Alessandro’s father. This was a sticky amalgam of nuts, some huge variety of dried grape, honey, spices and probably quite a few other secret potions.
As we sipped a little glass of liqueur (I can’t remember its name) Alessandro read some poems of Belli in Italian along with their brilliant English translations by Mike Stocks, another Alma author.
The whole evening was magical. I really do not exaggerate. Any Alma author who has failed to wangle an invitation to the Gallenzis for dinner – and to enjoy their warmth, wit and friendship – is missing out badly. Alright they are the nimblest small publisher around; they have the smartest book covers, the finest typeface and some of the most ruthless editing in the business. But they also run the best trattoria in London – one that, as any self-respecting wine snob will welcome, allows you to bring your own favourite bottle as well.
Il vaut le voyage.
Simon May is the author of Atomic Sushi and Thinking Aloud, published by Alma in 2006 and 2009 respectively.