28 August 2010

Cibo Arte - Food & Art at La Bella Italia

Florence: Last Saturday, Millie and I were generously invited by Antonio of La Bella Italia to the booked out Wellington on a Plate CiboArte – a night of food and art with soprano Julia Booth. We arrived and were seated with an interesting couple, a lady from southern Italy and an English man who had met on the internet before immigrating to New Zealand. Such was the conversation between guests seated among La Bella's shelves laden with artisanal supplies. Antonio and his gorgeous wife along with their attentive staff ensured guests were seated, comfortable and furnished with a glass of red (The Siren Martinborough Merlot Cabernet) or white (Melody Chardonnay).

Millie: We'd been to La Bella Italia before (and to their cafe on the Terrace), but never for this kind of event. I was especially excited because I've been trying to get to as many Wellington on a Plate events as I can (and since I left the planning too late most of my top choices were sold out) and this one sounded fabulous. Anticipation levels were high as guests streamed through the entrance and soon the cavernous warehouse-like space was filled with Italian food and Italian food aficionados alike.

Florence: Antonio introduced the evening's fare and entertainment - his passion for food positively oozing out of his every pore. The entrée was polenta on ragout di costine di maiale e funghi (soft polenta with wild mushrooms and pork ribs ragout).

Florence: The polenta was soft and creamy, the perfect base to mop up the simple but perfectly matched flavours of the melt-in-your-mouth pork and mushroom ragout. Appetite sufficiently whetted, the gorgeous and talented Booth took to the stage accompanied by Mark Dorrell, for her opening piece “O mio babbino” (Puccini), her voice swelling and filling the rafters of La Bella.

Florence: In between courses and the opera, Millie and I were able to nip up through the closely nestled tables to take a few snaps of the well-oiled (no doubt olive) machine of the kitchen. The main course was noce di agnello arrosto con fagioli al fiasco e cavolo nero (roasted lamb rump with borlotti beans and cavolo nero casserole).

Millie: It was fun to see the kitchen staff expertly dishing up the meals, and seeing the finishing touches being added, we took our seats and readied ourselves for the next course. Sure enough, the lamb followed shortly thereafter (in quite generous portions, I may add!) and we dug in.

Florence: The lamb was succulent and cooked perfectly, still pink and juicy in the centre, and was lightly crusted with fragrant dried rosemary. The borlotti beans were tender and the casserole was rustic and simple – perfect with the merlot cabernet and good conversation. I'm partial to cavolo nero when it still has a bit of bite to it, however one can't expect bitey cavolo nero in a casserole, and I am certainly not going to argue with the Italians!

Millie: This dish felt so indulgent, but really was quite simple, hearty, healthy(ish) food (despite - or maybe because of - all the olive oil) - protein and seasonal greens, root vegetables and legumes. I've been really into this rustic style of cooking this winter, so this was definitely a welcome treat.

Florence: Bracket two of Julia Booth's performance was just as sterling as the first, holding the audience in raptures and soon the dessert, zabaglione al marsala con savoiardi (Marsala wine sabayon with ladyfinger biscuits), was being served. The sabayon was light (I wondered if perhaps there were egg whites in it as well as the usual yolks), and not overly sweet with top notes of the marsala wine, all pleasantly scooped up with the sugary crunchy ladyfinger. It was all over too soon.

Millie: As with the previous courses, I was struck by the elegant simplicity of this dish. Nothing too pretentious or out-of-this-world, just a delicate lingering sweetness on the tongue. It was light and indulgent at the same time and was a fitting finale to the evening's meal.

Florence: Julia Booth's final pieces were odes to love - “Song to the Moon” (Dvorak), “The Man I Love” (Gershwin) and a comic and expertly performed piece “Girl in 14G” (Jennifer Tesori) that had the audience giggling into their desserts. Antonio finished off the evening extolling the virtues of art and food, with him an aficionado of both (and warning the attendees that if anyone ordered a cappuccino he would cry).

Millie: I'm no expert on opera, but Julia's performance was superb, and her last set really highlighted the versatility of her vocal talents. I'll definitely be keeping an eye out for her name in the future.

Florence: Millie and I happily rounded off the evening with a limoncello, and a browse round the inspiring grocery aisles. The limoncello is a much more brightly coloured and opaque version of the translucent New Zealand limoncello I am used to. The Italian lady from our table enlightened us as to the difference, noting that this limoncello is made using unripe lemons, giving it a much brighter appearance and opacity. The digestif was sour (but not lip puckeringly so) and was much smoother with less of an alcohol burn than the limoncellos I am used to.

Millie: I was really tempted to buy myself a bottle of that limoncello, but managed to talk myself out of it (I'm moving on the weekend!). Overall I was quite impressed with this event; the food was superb, the performance spellbinding and we were in great company. Although this event was organised as part of Wellington on a Plate, La Bella Italia regularly put on various special dinners, cooking classes and other events, which can be found here.

A wonderful evening at a Wellington favourite.

La Bella Italia 
10 Nevis St
(04) 566 9303

Millie and Florence attended CiboArte as guests of La Bella Italia.


Juli Ryan said...

Wow! What an incredible night. Wish I had been there.

Helen (Grab Your Fork) said...

Billy and I had dessert at La Bella Italia and heard about this amazing event. I was so entranced by the idea and pained we wouldn't be around to make it, so I'm glad I got to see the event vicariously.

Intimate live opera is so spectacular and I do love the look of that soft polenta too!

Arwen from Hoglet K said...

Food and opera sound like a lovely combination. The beans and lamb look great, and perfect for winter.

hungryandfrozen said...

Well done you two, sounds like an awesome night...and that polenta looks amazing (I'm a fiend for the stuff :)

I've been to La Bella Italia on the Terrace and love it, but the Petone one looks so beautiful, definitely worth making the effort to catch the train out there...

Plum Kitchen said...

That looked like a wonderful evening, great pics of the food (that polenta, mmmm), which looks so delicious, and beautiful music too, you lucky Wellingon peeps, I am very envious:)

Mel said...

Oh my word, this sounds spectacular! Great write-up ladies, thanks for sharing :-)

billy@atablefortwo said...

Sounds like a fantastic evening, but woah my eyes have fixated on that lamb monster! I want one!

millie mirepoix said...

Juli- it was really fun! Our tablemates said they had been to a similar evening at La Bella before, so maybe there'll be another one soon :)

Helen- it was actually my first time seeing opera sung up close rather than as part of a big production, and it was special... definitely sent chills up my spine!

Arwen- yes, all of the food was quite hearty and wintry but the lamb and beans especially so. I could go for some now, actually...

Laura- the Petone La Bella is huge and has heaps of cool Italian grocery and deli stuff as well as meals, and their cooking classes look good too. Definitely worth a trip out :)

Plum Kitchen- it truly was a memorable night and the polenta was delicious. If you get the chance to come down for next year's Wellington on a Plate you should, it was great fun!

Mel- it really was fun... can't wait till next year's festival :)

millie mirepoix said...

Billy- Yeah, the lamb, incredible. Probably about the size and shape of a large child's fist, or a small apple, or something like that, and so juicy. I want another one!

italian restaurants auckland said...

Sounds like a really good night!

(GOD that lamb looks good.)

The team here are very jealous...