By Leo Owen.
Despite having to factor in extra walking time to accommodate perilous heels, we're glad when we enter Great Portland Street’s Italian restaurant Dego and are presented with a glass of sparkling Saten. We’re surrounded by smartly dressed folk of all ages. Tonight is all about the perfect pairing of our grape-produced friend and authentic Italian dishes.
We begin by tasting four Villa Franciacorta winemaker products and are given a brief introduction to each sparkling wine by two of the vineyard's representatives flown over from Italy - Roberta and Francesca (pictured below) - who are both unnecessarily apologetic about their spoken English.
Having sampled Saten on the way in, we've already made our first faux pas by comparing it to Prosecco, but at least note it's less bubbly than its infamous counterpart. After we're told it's nothing like Prosecco - mild blushing - we're given some insight into the winemaking process, historical background of the Villa Franciacorta estate and their "think with the head, decide with the heart" philosophy. Translated from Italian, Saten means silk, aptly indicating the light soft texture of our first taster wine or the "tissue in the mouth" feeling that accompanies each swallow.
The Dego restaurant managers introduce themselves before a second bottle is produced and water decanters/spittoons are utilised, ready for the next taster. This is a relaxed tasting, with wine specialists, journos and PR's friends milling around as smiley Dego staff ensure everyone gets a look-in. Next up: the Brut; another bubbly little number, also from 2007 but fruitier and more intense than the Saten.
Standing next to my sister’s lipstick-stained glass, chatting to my neighbour, I discover the dangers of wearing make-up while wine tasting; as a member of Sotherby's wine marketing department authoritatively warns us that lipstick and balms can affect the taste and feel of the bubbles when sampling. So it appears last season's nude trend is the way to go in this environment. As all the wines this evening are sparkling, it's now quite likely the Brut Rose, also from 2007, and the dry Diamant 2005 that follow, are going to result in a lipstick contaminated judgment.
With the newfound knowledge that the Diamant is one of the most complex wines and most popular in its "pureness", almost an hour after sampling the first wine, we are ushered downstairs, abandoning the spittoons.
We’re about to sample a menu especially formulated to complement Villa Franciacorta's wines. Sitting at our designated table, I can't help but think what a small world this is. I've already chatted with the editor of Bar Magazine, who I've previously met, and now I'm sitting in a four-seat booth with an old film website acquaintance. The room has a relaxed diner feel with red tiled walls, matching prints, maroon pillars and interesting red spear-shaped lights.
Dego bravely introduces a three-course menu and I follow my host's bold example; despite normally avoiding fish, I sample the tuna ravioli. Exceedingly light, this cold starter is thankfully not too fishy and naturally matches the wine poured by our waitress who proudly displays her sommelier status through a large gold medallion award hanging from her neck, apparently doubling up as a traditional tasting vessel.
To follow the tuna, roasted veal is served with walnuts and mushrooms and tasty fat-cooked potato cubes. Being typical Brits, we're not entirely happy without our salt and pepper and I'm surprised by the news that neither is available. But almost as if to pacify our disappointment, an additional plate of exceedingly tasty veal arrives. As the evening passes, the lights dim, making the wine display and flat screen TV above the open bar seem to glow, reminding us of life beyond this gastronomical cocoon.
Between courses, each wine and dish is lovingly introduced by our hosts, who graciously thank us for our attendance before presenting us with the final course: an attractively presented fruit board and a selection of three sumptuous cheeses with no dolcelate in sight.
Dego means "listen" in Italian and it's certainly something we've done a lot of this evening, soaking in the jargon of the wine trade. My head is full of tannins, talk of vertical tastings, percentages, and fermentation as I leave this quiet Italian haven, equally full of good food and wine.
To book a table at Dego, follow this link.
Looking for further Italian restaurant inspiration in London? Check out the Top 10 Best Italian Restaurants in London