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Rome Created in an Evening
Rome Created in an Evening

It’s another world. Outside the high pink walls of the Villa Rosa Kempinski, the Nairobi traffic flashes past in a braid of red and white taillights. Within the walls, the Villa rises in graceful rose and cream arches until it brushes the midnight-blue sky. You could be in Rome. Or Florence.

Below the arches, where the soft lights of the foyer spill out into the night, a fountain cascades down wide steps set in lush gardens. At the foot of the steps, there’s a paved courtyard. Tables have been laid out, candles flicker and you can just make out the face of a carved lion set into a mossy garden wall.

You could be in Venice.

A sign hangs outside, ‘Lucca’, it reads. Inside, where the lights glow welcoming gold, a white marble table has been laid out with great bowls of fruit, cheese and olives. There are bunches of fresh basil and tall bottles of oil. A rustic archway bears huge wheels of cheese – not for show, but inviting you to slice into them. It’s a generous, bustling restaurant with a hubbub of voices. To the rear is an open-air terrace. But the guests of the Amarone Wine Dinner have foregathered around the white marble table; and chilled prosseco is being served.

Well of course.

What else?

The prosecco, a Bepin D’Eto Brut is light and flirtatious; the bubbles tiny as fairy pinpricks on the tongue. The first course, Arancini, or ‘little oranges’, are golden globes of deep-fried risotto and grated Gran Padano cheese, a gracious cousin to the more famous Parmigiano-Reggiano. They are served with a creamy sauce and give a satisfying crunch as you bite into them; and then… the risotto spills out.

Now the guests are invited to take their seats at the tables in the courtyard; menus are presented. We are to dine on Vitello tonnato, followed by a Porcini mushroom risotto, replaced with a slow-cooked rib eye of steak with baby vegetables and an Amarone jus. And to finish, we are to revel in a chocolate sable with salted caramel ice cream.

The Vitello, an antipasto in the classic Piedmontese style, comprises chilled, sliced veal served with a creamy sauce subtly flavoured with tuna. The furls of veal are delicate as petals and the dish, redolent of long lazy Italian summers, is accompanied by a Soave Classico Zenato. It’s chill, crisp and fruity: and we are told by our host, who is, himself, the representative of an ancient house of Italian wine growers, that it originates in the Venetian hills.

Next comes the risotto, a rich and creamy fusion of Porcini mushrooms, truffles and braised veal. And now the famous Amarone reds make their debut. The first is a Zenato Amarone Classico – it’s garnet red, rich, profound; and with a suggestion of Christmas spice. The risotto and the red compliment each other perfectly; as our sommelier-host knew they would.

A screen has materialized and we are treated to a short but compelling audiovisual presentation on the wines that our host has chosen for us. The little courtyard suddenly blazes with visions of impossibly green vineyard terraces and castle-crowned hilltops. But we must return to the matter in hand – the slow-cooked rib-eye steak. Of course, it’s a masterpiece of butter-soft texture and red-wine reduction. And it comes to the table in the company of an utterly majestic wine. The Masi Costasera Amarone 2009 rolls around the tongue like a rich, red, Venetian velvet cloak.

Conversation is buzzing. We didn’t know each other before tonight. But now our laughter echoes around the courtyard. This dinner is a magical fusion of light-hearted exchange, charmingly delivered information, inspirationally presented cuisine and intuitively selected wines.

And to finish – there’s still the chocolate sable. It doesn’t disappoint. An intense chocolate biscuit so creamy as to be almost a truffle, it is exquisitely juxtaposed with a salted caramel ice cream and stabbed through with a long stiletto of filigree chocolate. Very Roman. As to wine, we’ve now moved on to the classic Italian spirit, Grappa, a grape-based brandy to which the Italians are addicted: with good reason. It arrives clear, innocent and slightly viscous, and slips down throat like living fire.
And we glow.
Rome might not have been built in a day, but it was certainly created here at Lucca for the evening. Exiting the high pink walls of the Villa Rosa Kempinski, we slip back into the traffic. And the reality of Nairobi.

For further information on the next wine dinner at LUCCA contact us at; or please call +254 (20) 360 3000

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