The Hunger | London Fashion Week Special: Babbo & J Sheekey
— February 19, 2011 —
In this column, Ananda Pellerin and Neil Wissink uncover the secret pleasures of the gastronome
Oysters and champagne at J Sheekey Photography by Neil WissinkTo coincide with the start of London Fashion Week, AnOther's food columnists visited two restaurants perfect for fashion week eats.
Babbo (Italian for 'daddy'), has been open on Albemarle street in Mayfair for just over a year and a half, and was recently voted Zagat's best new Italian restaurant in London. For London Fashion Week, head chef Douglas Santi has put together a special menu featuring high energy, low calorie and flavourful dishes. Originally from Bergamo, Italy, Santi's family moved to Brazil when he was young. At the age of 13 he declared his intentions to become a chef, and spent the next year working in Brazil before returning to Italy to learn his craft in European kitchens, including as sous chef to Alain Ducasse. Santi has been cooking professionally for 24 years; he will be 37 next week. The Babbo kitchen, he explains, is authentic Italian. "You are going to have the same meal as if you went to a restaurant in Italy – for me this is quite important." In particular, the menu is heavily influenced by cooking from the Maremma region of Tuscany; an area spanning from mountain to sea, and known for its diverse, traditional cuisine.
Santi tells us that the LFW menu’s homemade papadelle and tuna with caper sauce (one of our favourite pasta sauces) is the perfect lunch. "A lot of people think that pasta is fattening, but in Italy when you want to lose weight you eat pasta every day at lunch. It gives you a lot of energy, and you burn the carbohydrates." The wild Scottish sea bass, cooked to refined perfection, is grilled and served unadorned. "When the fish is good, you don't need to do much to it" Santi says. "In my kitchen, I don't put a lot of ingredients in the same dish. I don't like that kind of confusion."
Eventually falling afield of the LFW menu, we make a very important discovery: burrata; a creamy mozzarella-like cheese from Campagna not often found on London menus, but heartily enjoyed at Babbo. According to our waiter, it is a house favourite – and rightly so. And if you want to indulge a bit, we recommend the unassumingly named Caprese, a dessert which Santi accurately describes as "a surprise.” Rather startling at first sight, it is a fluffy white cloud of cream, yoghurt and berries that is as light as air; perfection itself.
Over at Covent Garden, well-loved oyster bar J Sheekey is also offering a LFW special. Six Strangford Lough Irish oysters with a glass of Pol Roger Pure champagne for £15.75 (a glass of the stuff is usually £18 on its own). With no added sugar, Pol Roger Pure is light and low in calories, and perhaps more importantly, the crisp hints of green apple make it a perfect, bone dry companion to oysters. All to be slowly savoured at this Art Deco oasis in central London.
Ananda and Neil visited Babbo on Tuesday, 15 February at 2pm. They visited J Sheekey on Wednesday 16 February at 6pm, and didn’t ever want to leave.
Text by Ananda Pellerin
Ananda Pellerin is a London-based writer and editor of Wheel Me Out. Neil Wissink is a visual artist also based in London.