Gorgeous Italian wines – from Russia with love

10 Feb

You don’t expect superb Italian wines served in a beautiful, light and bright Tuscan-style restaurant from a Russian restaurateur, but Mayfair’s newest eatery, Novikov, confounds all expectations.  It’s the first and only restaurant outside Russia from Arkady Novikov, who made his name bringing different fine cuisines to Muscovites, and decided to make a present of his flair to Londoners, with whom he shares a home.   The Novikovs, while living in London for as long as their children are studying there, also have a villa on Lake Como, so perhaps it’s no surprise Novikov knows his Italian food – not that he’s slaved over a hot stove personally for many years now.

While the odd bottle from neighbouring countries like France and Austria gets a look in, Novikov has wisely built a fine Italian list for the half of his massive restaurant devoted to that country’s cuisine(the other half serves stylish Asian food).  There is a super list  of wines by the glass, and we enjoyed a Rami falanghina to accompany traditional starters like bresaola and the best possible burrata flown in from Puglia, as well as an inspired carpaccio of sea bass.   Light but in no way insipid; expect to see a lot more falanghina about in the coming year.

With spectacular primi piatti of linguine into which a whole Scottish lobster, sauted in brandy with a touch of tomato, had been chopped, we were served a vermentino from Sardinia.   I wish it could have been the spectacular but pricey Cervara della Sala from Antinori in Umbria, which I relished a taste of to follow.  Worth £20 per glass for anyone who adores fine chardonnay which resembles an old-fashioned Meursault.

Bless Novikov for making the king of Italian red wine, Barolo, also available by the glass – our Burlotto 2006 was a voluptuous and aromatic partner to a bistecca alla Fiorentina.  It was served, just as it would be in Tuscany, as a thick T-bone for two,  probably a kilo in weight, seared to perfection and sliced at the table, with fine Tuscan olive oil and a squeeze of lemon as the essential and only condiments.   Spinach to go with, wilted and also dressed lightly with olive oil, and potatoes mashed to a seductive puree with yet more olive oil, made lovely accompaniments.   It’s astonishing we found room for dessert, but a pear poached in red wine and served with a scoop of cassata ice-cream went down a treat with a little glass of vin santo.

The day ended with a gorgeous little surprise, when the  remainder of the bistecca came out to be enoyed at home.    We washed it down with a glass or two of chianti far smoother and fuller than you would expect from a bottle  costing barely more than £5.   That’s a promotional price, but the Canaletto chianti from Girelli would be decent value even at the normal £7.39, and is a wine Waitrose regularly seems to put on promotion.

When Italian wines are done well, they please like no other – we remember virtually all the barolos, amarones and brunellos we have drunk down to the year and place, because they were so seductive and unforgettable.    What a shame the perception of wines from the world’s largest wine-producing country  have been tainted by too much cheap chianti, poorly-made  pinot grigio and the produce of other grapes which are either grown on the wrong soil or haven’t been properly treated by the harvesters and winemakers.

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