A LOTTE LUNCH (excuse the double entendre!)

Simon Green

“Food, Glorious Food,” intoned the orphaned boys in Charles Dickens’ iconic book, ’Oliver’ which was reproduced around 1970 by Lionel Bart in an absolute classic musical. The aforementioned imprisoned boys sang soulfully, whilst gazing dolefully at lashings of traditional British fare destined for their superiors, while they had to make do with thin gruel for their humble and hard-laboured existence. Fast forward some 180 years later, and it found me entering the Lotte Hotel in Moscow, having been invited to indulge in the very antithesis to what those poor boys were subjected to.

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I had mentioned this event casually to my long term friend, Elena Tolstaya, and she needed little coercion to accompany me. Why? None other than the world-famous Michelin several stars Chef, Carlo Cracco, was in attendance and presiding over proceedings for this hedonistic occasion. This was quite simply an opportunity not to be missed, and in retrospect, I’m so glad I didn’t. We were ushered into the dining room where a table was adorned with plates that were right out of the top drawer (most probably literally such were their noble craftsmanship), and we sipped wine while the other 25 guests duly joined us.

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After several aperitives, we were invited to sit down, and various gastronomic starters were placed in front of us. The presentation of these canapes were exquisite, as was their flavour, and an Oyster ‘Nduja’ brought this high class, culinary introit to a close. The ever so attentive Lotte Plaza staff saw to it that we were kept in liquid refreshment, with a mere imperceptible nod to get their attention. Finally came the piece de resistance that I had been waiting for: a rack of lamb that was unbelievably tender, quite rare and utterly succulent. I honestly can’t recall a finer and more ambrosial lamb passing my lips, and only the slightest pressure of one’s knife rendered a slither for digestion. After the empty plates had been collected (mine included, which is a rarity), Luke Connor, the BBC President, invited each person in turn to introduce themselves with a couple of sentences. This was a great idea, and I found it interesting that old-timers such as my good self found this was second nature, whilst others struggled to find suitable words.

That done, we were then presented with a to die for dessert called ‘Etna,’ after the mountain, whereby after delivering each portion, a waitress came along and cracked some of the components of the dish which promptly fell apart, but nevertheless exuded flavour and quality that had one screaming out for seconds, emulating poor Oliver 180 years before when he unwittingly drew the short straw to ask for ‘more,’ much to the chagrin and incredulity of Mr Bumble! It’s rather rare for me to get excited by food nowadays, but Carlo Cracco’s offerings defied belief, and he’s raised the bar in Moscow to ever higher echelons. Thank you one and all for scintillating conversation, and especially to the BBC for making this event possible, and producing food of such venerability!

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