What do you get if you cross spaghetti with a surgeon’s glove? How about tuna with banana? Or venison with deep fried Ferrero Rocher?
A pretty unforgettable dining experience, that’s what.
Which is exactly what occurred last Friday when we headed over to Headingley for the second pop up event from these weird and wonderful guys. The Stranos (Italian for strange) are the same people behind Salvo’s. But where Salvo’s is all about family-friendly traditional Italian cooking, Strano swats away traditional, chucks the rule book out the window and instead focuses on creating an alternative dining experience.
We knew we were in the right place by the fire lighting the way to the entrance
The event was held in a small venue next door to Jam Hairdressers. Upon arrival we were ushered upstairs to a very cute little ante room full of mismatched furniture and quirky wall decorations. Music came courtesy of an old record player in the corner and on offer to drink were an array of cocktails and unpasteurized beers.
There were about 30-40 of us altogether on this first of four nights that were taking place and there was definitely an air of excited anticipation. Other than the drinks menu there was no other indication of what culinary creations might be in store for us that evening.
It was at this point that one of the Stranos welcomed us and explained their desire to create a unique, relaxed but alternative dining experience, with a focus on fun and food. And as a warm up showed us a clip from an old-school Italian comedian, Toto.
The scene showed a group of people waiting politely to eat their meal… that is until a huge tureen of spaghetti is placed before them when they totally lose it and start eating by the handful.
Every dining room should have its own bike hanging from the ceiling
It was a fun clip but it wasn’t until we went through to the dining room (a lovely loft conversion resplendent with oak beams, hands on window sills and a chopper bike hanging from the ceiling) and were greeted by a surgeon’s glove, no cutlery and a big plastic bib that the pieces of the puzzle started to fall into place.
Not every day a surgeon’s glove is part of your starter
The menu wittily described the first course as Don’t Bite the Hand That Feeds You #2. And sure enough, for the first course out came lovely little tureens full of spaghetti topped with lamb belly and sweetbreads to be shovelled into the mouth by hand.
Spaghetti and Sweetbreads by hand
Whether its pulling apart seafood to get to the good stuff, mopping up anything with a hunk of bread or spooning curry into your mouth with some sticky rice, the fun of using your hands to get stuck in without a fork impeding progress is a glorious thing. And I’ve probably not eaten spaghetti with my hands since I was about 2 so this experience was one to savour. Add to that the fact the amazing seasoning of the spaghetti (loads of butter, plenty of garlic, parsley and just the right amount of salt) and the delicate crispiness of the sweetbreads and you know you’re onto a winner. From the buzz around the room I think everyone was of the same mind!
Much fun was had by all
So surgeon’s glove crossed with spaghetti, tick.
Next up came a slightly more conservative dish conceptually, but still with some interesting combinations – veal marrow in the bone accompanied by risotto milanese bread and Colaturo butter. The marrow was ultra rich, buttery and nutty and needed the sharp crunch of the risotto milanese (a crisp bread made from risotto rice). The bread and butter felt like another separate dish (which is how we ate them) but I loved the butter which was rich with essence of anchovy (or as one of the Stranos put it, anchovy drainings) which was apparently eaten as far back as Roman times.
Pane di Risotto Milanese with Veal Marrow
The third dish was the one that had been intriguing me since I clapped eyes on the menu. Entitled Quatotuote (Tuna/Banana 4×4) I was dying to know if this was going to be a boundary pushing triumph or tuna and bananas. The dish arrived and did look pretty as a picture. Beautiful pink chunks of tuna drizzled in light oil contrasting with the lush yellow of the banana 4 ways (a fritter, banana chocolate, a plain piece of banana and a sorbet). Lovely colours, nice textures. So onto the fork went a piece of banana and a slice of tuna. In the mouth. And….
That well known combination…
….. it tasted of tuna and bananas. Unfortunately not a taste sensation, not a triumph of the imagination but more of a Masterchef moment when a contestant has tried to push the envelope but instead fell into the letterbox. In my mind all I could hear were John & Greg giving this dish a serious telling off. I found myself nodding along to the voices in my head as I tried to politely swallow the next few mouthfuls. This one was too Strano for me.
Tuna crossed with banana. Never.
Next up was Cinema Paradiso on account of the popcorn and toffee that went alongside the ham hock ravioli, chicken liver pate, asparagus and asparagus veloute. And the popcorn worked really well with the ravioli that was cooked to perfection. The pasta was al dente and the ham had a salty aftertaste that went with the popped corn (I always did prefer salty to sweet). The pate was rich, full of flavour and ultra smooth.
I wasn’t so sure about the toffee on the plate but that is probably on account of the fact I don’t have much of a sweet tooth. Tom loved it – particularly how the pate cut through the sweetness. What made the dish really special was the smoking rapeseed oil that arrived in a jar to be drizzled over the food.
Popcorn and toffee with ravioli and pate
The Ambassodor’s Venison was next on the menu and promised a deep fried Ferrero Rocher. We wondered what that might be – maybe a hazelnut covered in chocolate with a crispy outer? Nope, turns out it was an actual deep fried Ferraro Rocher. And while it didn’t massively go with the rest of the dish it was definitely a fun snazzy twist on a deep fried mars bar!
The rest of the dish comprised the most amazing mushroom puree known to man, wilted greens, parsnip puree, candied hazelnuts, perfectly cooked venison and creme caramel. The creme caramel sounds a bit weird but actually worked quite nicely with the bitter mushroom and the venison. There was a bit too much of it but this was acknowledged by one of the staff who said they had learned a bit about portions on the first night and would probably tweak for subsequent sittings.
With this venison you are spoiling us…
Deep fried Ferraro Roche crossed with Venison. Question mark.
Finally we moved onto a pudding entitled The Elvis. Which turned out to be a combo of all the things that killed him in the end – peanut butter ice cream (topped with a rasher of bacon for good measure), strawberry and toffee jelly, peanut butter cubes and eggy bread croutons. All through the night the courses had been set to certain pieces of music courtesy of the record player that had sneaked over from the ante room. And of course, there was no better tune to go with this dish than Come on Everybody. It was a fun ending that matched the fun beginning of this Strano meal.
Heart attack on a plate!
Just when we thought we couldn’t fit in anything else, along came a cheeky drinks menu and a glass of fine Nonino Grappa appeared in front of Tom.
Along with it we got a lovely story about how before Mr. Nonino, Grappa in Italy was a low rate wino drink. It was made from all the leftover grapes from the wine-making process that had been on the floor of the winery for 2, 3 even 4 days. But then along came Nonino in the ’70s who insisted on the leftovers from the same varietals delivered on the same day. He paid a premium for this but as a result created an incredible product and led the way in the single varietal high quality Grappas. And this one was no exception.
Throughout the evening the atmosphere had been laid back and convivial – everyone at the event seemed to be having a great time and the Stranos were perfect hosts. The food definitely had its highs and lows – the pinnacles being anything pasta (as you’d expect from the chef from Salvo’s), the mushroom puree and the sweatbreads. You’ve already had the low-down on the low.
Loving the Strano decor
But it wasn’t just about the food that evening. The whole experience was brilliant fun. Any meal that starts with some Italian comedy recreation and ends with some classic Elvis is good in my book. And regardless of what came out of the kitchen, the anticipation that was generated from the cryptic menu sparked all sorts of fun conversations. All this for just £35 a head for 6 courses – I can see why this event sold out well in advance of the first sitting.
Next up is their 7 Deadly Sins meal in February. I will be first in line for tickets and can’t wait to see what oddities are in store.
Stranos – I salute you.