It's been a while since Eataly opened.
As soon as Michele heard that the critically acclaimed Alice restaurant had opened on the top floor too, it was a winner for our culinary to-do list. But then he heard about the Social Table. Once a month, the Social Table brings a group of individuals together to meet new friends, raise money for not-for-profit organisations and taste eight surprise courses. It was perfect! But then he realised that I was less than ideal as a dinner partner for a surprise tasting menu with my decidedly pescatarian ways (sorry!)
As such, our dreams of Alice (pronounced AH-lee-cheh - it means anchovy, sorry all Alices out there!) faded away. The last I knew of it, he was looking for a willing friend to go along to the €120 a head night and I forgot all about it.
Until one weekday in March.
I was sitting in the lounge of Michele's apartment, burrowing a tunnel through journal articles in the midst of exam revision and dissertation writing, when I heard an unexpected key in the door.
Suddenly, Michele jumped through the door and shouted "surprise!" - it turned out he hadn't been to work at all that day and had been running various errands all morning instead. He promptly flipped my laptop shut, grabbed my hand and marched me out to lunch.
But not just any lunch; he'd booked us a table in the window at Alice, with a wonderful view over Piazza XXV Aprile - perfect for people watching.
Even better, I was allowed to choose anything I liked as it was a special celebration of me getting accepted for my PhD studentship. What a keeper.
Now, the primary options were a) the three course lunch menu (€40 per person) or b) one of the tasting menus with 1,000,000 courses (€90 per person).
I went for the latter. What can I say? I'm a very greedy person.
We started off with a series of canapes. Of particular note was the mussel in seawater gelatine (above) - it was delicious and kind of like eating an oyster. It was also the part of the meal I was most sceptical about and I very nearly gave it away to Michele as I'm not the biggest fan of shellfish. Furthermore savoury jelly has never appealed to me - Italian delis are full of jellied... things. Jellied salmon with a jellied prawn on top. The worst thing I ever saw was a jellied "involtino" which was essentially a piece of prosciutto wrapped around coleslaw and then set in gelatine. It looked like a man's private parts, that's all I'm going to say. After that, I vowed never to go near this strange Italian affection for savoury jelly but perhaps this little appetiser has swayed me...
As the menu changes fairly regularly, most of the dishes shown here have been replaced or updated. However the Stracciatellami (above) has stayed. Santa Margherita red prawns marinated in lime, bottarga, tomato water (which sounds much better in Italian - acqua di pomodoro!), stracciatella cheese and toasted garlic bread? I can see why they've kept it.
But then I don't know why the other dishes have gone. This was San Pietro (John Dory) on a bed of squid ink rice.
Now one of our greatest dilemmas in these situations is as follows: how much wine is a good amount of wine to order? A bottle can seem like too much sometimes, a glass is nowhere near enough!
I'm a huge fan of restaurants that serve house wine by the quarter litre - a half litre between two would be perfect for us as we're not huge wine drinkers but we like to have something on the side of our meal.
However that is evidently not very sophisticated of me. And anyway, the choice is often not there. So bottle it is!
Although that then leaves us rather tipsy, no matter how much bread you eat...
And being a little woozy makes it very hard to remember what the hell it is you've actually eaten, especially when you're a little late to the table with writing up the posts and by the time you get round to it, the menus have changed (the new menu can be found here).
But seeing as the menus have changed, surely it doesn't matter if I can't remember exactly what the dish was? (Clutching at straws here!)
I have since bought a notebook so that I can be better at this in future. For now... here are my drunken memory descriptions...
Fresh pasta with salt cod and delicious smoky onion sauce.
Fancy looking fish on polenta with vegetables but made to look like a work of art.
Pre-dessert (God bless the establishments that understand one dessert is not enough)
Oops I was still drinking... obviously hadn't drunk enough by this point (I think I may also have tried to get some dessert wine thrown into the mix? Michele wasn't having any of it though!)
I can't remember what dessert was but I do remember wanting to marry it.
Above and below; the two culprits.
Another divine thing about tasting menus is that you're more often than not offered a little selection of sweet nibbles to finish the meal off (if you haven't eaten yourself to the edge, that is).
The one in the middle was full of salted caramel. Amen.
Just perfect to go with a good old cuppa (although a builder's brew it was not!)
Finally, after what seemed like (blissful) hours, we staggered out of the long-empty restaurant and meandered lazily back home for an afternoon nap (revision be damned).
It was an absolutely excellent way to celebrate my good news and I would jump at the chance to go back again.
And the best news? You can notify the kitchen of your dietary requirements if you want to book onto the Social Table.
Happy, happy days.