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Locanda Locatelli: Expensive, formal, but fails to hit the spot (©Locanda Locatelli)

If you’re one of those people who uses others’ taste in books as a gauge of romantic viability, here’s a useful piece of advice. Ladies, don’t trust an adult male who claims Hemingway is a genius. It’s not the prose. The prose is fine. If you like short sentences. It’s the inevitability that a man who loves Hemingway isn’t enamoured of the terse iteration of American Modernism, but the life. The swagger, the dead rhinos, the dubious interest in matadors, the margaritas. Because Papa was such a tremendous, tortured old fraud — as Martha Gellhorn observed when she waded waist-deep through the Normandy waves on D-day while her then husband cowered on the troop ship — that any man over 15 who professes to admire him will prove to be (in the word of another writer whom no one past adolescence should decently admire) a phoney. Ergo — not bad on the page, lousy between the sheets.

In contrast, however, inauthenticity in food is something we’re not righteous about, and there’s a rather wonderful risotto they do at the Gritti Palace in Venice, imaginatively named Risotto Hemingway, which makes me feel positively benevolent towards the old shyster. It’s a travesty of a risotto — finished with cream and stiff as a picador’s lance — but, jewelled with pearly langoustine from the lagoon and cocked with a magnificently macho specimen, claws still attached, it is delicious enough to make the pontoon, if not the earth, move beneath you.

Giorgio Locatelli is not, I imagine, a man who would allow cream anywhere near his risotti. He is rightly lauded in both the UK and his native Italy as one of the most accomplished chefs of his generation, and  his Michelin-starred Locanda Locatelli has been a stalwart of the London scene since 2002. Mr Locatelli eschews the faux-rusticity which bedevils much imported Italian cooking, even in its latest abominable incarnation, “il street food”, instead making a case for a refined Italian cuisine whose construction and presentation is every bit as elaborate as dishes which might emerge from a conventionally French kitchen.

The purity and clarity of flavour upon which Italian food prides itself are in his hands elevated to a more sophisticated level of gastronomy, and as someone who would gladly never again eat a piece of toast smeared with bland baccala which ponces about calling itself a cicchetto I say hurrah to that — and yet. A recent visit to the Locanda dismally failed to hit the spot.

First they did the thing with the olive oil. My Sicilian companion was bemused by this. Italians don’t actually spend a lot of time dipping their bread in oil: it is a Californian, not a Mediterranean fashion. You dip your bread in oil when you have bugger all else to eat, not when you’re paying for a linen tablecloth. The Americans thought it was “authentic” to the extent that they even serve oil with focaccia (already laden with it), and the trend has woefully made its way back to its purported homeland — even the Gritti are at it. The bread was excellent, especially a roast garlic and grape-must variation; it simply didn’t need the oil.
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