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Obsession 2016: Marco Stabile and Angelo Sabatelli review

Obsession 2016: Marco Stabile and Angelo Sabatelli review

by Ollie Lloyd 29 January 2016

Ollie Lloyd goes to Northcote during this year's Obsession festival and discovers just how far Italian cooking has come.

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Ollie is the CEO of Great British Chefs.

On the fifth night of this year’s Obsession festival I was lucky enough to get a booking at Northcote’s dining room to enjoy a truly unique meal. Angelo Sabatelli and Marco Stabile – two incredible chefs doing amazing things in Italy – were teaming up for one night of gastronomic splendour. I took my mother along, and on our table we were joined by two of the chefs (and their teams) who will be cooking at the festival at a later date – Taiwan’s Lanshu Chen and Japanese three-starred legend Hideaki Matsuo. I thought it would be interesting to see what they thought of Italian food, but as I was about to realise, the dishes we would be eating are nothing like the classics you’d expect from an Italian chef.

The duo who would be cooking for us have each won a Michelin star at their restaurants – Marco’s in Tuscany, Angelo’s in Puglia – but have wildly different approaches to food. Angelo uses the best ingredients from across Italy to create his unique dishes with modern twists, taking inspiration from his time in places like Bangkok, Shanghai and Indonesia (something that seriously interested the two Asian chefs at our table). Marco, on the other hand, puts an emphasis on the story behind his food, bringing his own personal journey to life. By calling his dishes names such as ‘If a meteorite falls in Tuscany’ and ‘Remembering my father’, he instantly makes his cuisine a talking point at the table.

One thing Northcote is particularly good at is putting on a show for guests, and the night certainly didn’t disappoint. We were able to watch all the hustle and bustle of the kitchen via screens while we relaxed in the luxurious dining room; a place of unbelievable tranquillity and calm. As we eagerly awaited Angelo’s first dishes, we tucked into some amazing sourdough and Lancashire cheese rolls (one of my mother’s highlights).

The dishes

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Scampi, almond and lemon – Angelo

Angelo’s time in Asia obviously had a profound effect on his style; our first dish looked like two pieces of nigiri sushi, so much so that the Taiwanese contingent on our table suggested we pick them up and eat them with our hands. There were two large, juicy prawns – one sitting on a bed of almonds with little strips of lemon peel and the other draped with a blanket of truly sublime cuttlefish that was like silk in texture. They were two very separate, very different ideas on the plate, but both absolutely outstanding.

The dish was pleasantly bitter, and provided a good reminder that food is there to be eaten and loved, not tweeted.

Ollie Lloyd

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Black and white roasted aubergine – Angelo

What came next was designed not to be photographed. It was a rectangle of dark brown aubergine with a white sheet of what looked like icing but turned out to be ricotta placed on top. From directly above, the dish merged into the white plate becoming almost invisible, but looked at side-on it was like a slice of cake. The Italians traditionally tend to cook aubergine with balsamic vinegar, but Angelo had drawn on his love for Asian flavours once more and used soy sauce – a brilliant move. The dish was pleasantly bitter, and provided a good reminder that food is there to be eaten and loved, not tweeted.

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If a meteorite falls in Tuscany (‘Universal’ version of bruschetta) – Marco

Now it was Marco’s turn to wow the dining room – and he did just that. Apparently when Marco turned forty he became very interested in stars, space and the cosmos, which in turn inspired this dish. On top of black slate was a thick puree with a dark, ominous rock dragged through it, making the whole dish look just like a fallen comet. The rock actually turned out to be deep fried bread flavoured with cabbage, which we then tore apart and dipped into the sauce. It was enormous fun and incredibly delicious – there’s something quite earthy and nicely dirty about deep fried bread, which turned the dish into a guilty, moreish pleasure, and the uneven surface was so satisfyingly crunchy. It certainly got the conversation going and we asked for more.

 
It was another plate of dark, colourless food, but it was true to its name; the little sprinkles reminded you of ferns, moss and insects, while the bed of rice was earthy and full of texture. If anyone doubts the creative potential of risotto, you need to eat Marco’s.

Ollie Lloyd

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Risotto with forest flavours: remembering my father – Marco

This really was like eating the floor of a forest – the amount of earthy flavour Marco managed to get into this dish was incredible. Italians cook risotto so differently to us here in the UK; there was a real bite to Marco’s which worked brilliantly with the crispy, soil-like bits of onion, truffle, herbs and spices scattered over the top like an Italian dukkah. It was another plate of dark, colourless food, but it was true to its name; the little sprinkles reminded you of ferns, moss and insects, while the bed of rice was earthy and full of texture. If anyone doubts the creative potential of risotto, you need to eat Marco’s.

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Black pepper and coffee-crusted lamb loin, mandarin gel – Angelo

Angelo returned with an absolute beauty of a dish, which was actually presented in the way you expect traditional Michelin-starred food to look like. The lamb loin was of the very highest quality, cooked to perfection and covered in golden spices that really added a rich depth of flavour, especially when combined with the dusted coffee. This richness was cut with a little island of mandarin gel and the little cube of potato was to die for – everyone wanted another one! It was by far the prettiest dish on the menu.

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Milk, caramel and Maldon salt – Marco

While the photograph above has quite a bit of colour to it, the dish we were served was fully covered in a blanket of thick white foam, completely obscuring whatever was below. It tasted phenomenal and every time you dipped your spoon in you kept discovering new things – a pool of gooey caramel, little wobbling islands of panna cotta, crunchy salted clusters – that combined together in an explosion of textures and flavours. It was an indulgent Italian dish, evocative of the white church walls and lace found throughout Tuscany.

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Chocolate bon bon, wild onion confit, artichoke liqueur – Angelo

As you can see from the title of this dish, the final plate of food put in front of us was by no means an afterthought. The incredible (some would say insane) combination of flavours produced a truly once in a lifetime experience; the artichoke liqueur was like a bitter grappa with a hint of aniseed, to which the chef added finely chopped confit onion. Angelo’s Asian influences made a final appearance in the bon bons, which were made from something similar to dumpling wrappers with a hot chocolate filling. It was the kind of dish that made everyone stop their conversations and turn their attention right back to the food. The Grand Marnier drinks pairing was sheer genius – it must have been quite hard to find something that matched with such an otherworldly dish.

The wines

One of the most stand-out parts of the night had to be the wines Craig Bancroft, Northcote’s director of wines, chose for the evening, supplied by the fantastic Wright Wine Company. There were no safe, traditional choices; we enjoyed German, Cypriot, Portugese and Basque varieties that were full of flavour and character. When enjoyed alongside their matched dishes, however, they transformed into something truly sublime: From the Cypriot white served with Marco’s meteor of bread to the earthy red from Dao, Portugal that enriched the forest-like risotto, it became clear that Craig is an absolute expert when it comes to wine. Even though some of his choices sounded a little too out there, all doubts instantly vanished when you tried the food and wine together.

 
 

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