The wine guy: dinner hearty

V-day is around the corner, and Andy Clarke has just the food and wine combo for the occasion, whether you’ll be sharing with someone or keeping it all for yourself…

As we roll into the second month of the year, for many it’s time to emerge from the Dry January cocoon and start planning the ‘retox’. Welcome back, team! (I’m not a huge fan of making the darkest month of the year any more laborious by abstaining from fun food and alcohol, but have all the respect for those that do partake to help their health, or even raise money for charity.)

Whether we’ve fallen off the wagon or were never on it to begin with, now is the time to
indulge, with love well and truly in the air. Regardless of whether you do enforced romance in the name of St Valentine or not, 14 February is a great excuse to eat, drink and generally be merry (it’s not just for Christmas, that). Some of us might be in the throws of new romance, while others look to re-ignite date night or plan to spend perhaps the most commercially exploited saint’s day in the sole company of Netflix and a bottle of vino. Handily, I’ve got the ultimate food and drink combo for any of the above scenarios.

I’m full of lust – I mean love – for Gloucester Road at any time of the year. It’s where my dad grew up and is a treasure trove of independent shops and businesses. One of my favourite culinary hangouts there is Bomboloni. Andrew Griffin’s warm, Italian-inspired restaurant is named after the little continental-style filled doughnuts that they make here. This is a great spot for a dinner date, with its ever-changing menu full of home-cooked charm.

Andrew (formerly of Markwicks and Tart Café and Foodstore) opened Bomboloni in the summer of 2017 with the help of his family – especially wife Sara, who he met while working in Bristol’s celebrated Culinaria, in 1994. With hearty dishes such as divinely rich ox cheek and porcini tagliatelle and the unbelievable pork belly with cannellini beans and salsa verde, it’s easy to see how they quickly wooed locals and food tourists into their foodie fold.

When trying to entice Andrew to give me a recipe that would be ideal for a romantic evening, I was initially after his pasta con le sarde with saffron and pangrattato; its intense sardine flavour and breadcrumb crunch is worth the trip alone. Thing is, it may leave your breath a little less than desirable for that end-of-the-evening smooch. So instead, I turned to the restaurant’s Sicilian masterpiece known as spaghetti alla Norma. A traditional favourite, it’s delicious, kissing-friendly and easy to recreate at home.

It just so happens, too, that a few metres down the road from the restaurant one of my favourite Bristolian drinks stops is boasting some fine Sicilian sips that will complement the dish with enthusiasm. I love it when a plan comes together.

The aubergine, salted ricotta, basil and tomato in Andrew’s dish cry out for a tangy white like the Planeta La Segreta Grillo (£11.99 from Grape and Grind). The wine has a rich nose of petrolly peaches and yet it has a surprisingly bright flavour. The lemon drop freshness is great with the ricotta, the fleshy ripe pear hints are ideal with the aubergine, and the white pepper finish really complements the tomato, which envelops all the other ingredients.

But you can opt for a red here, too – as long as it’s not too savoury or tannic. Ciello Baglio Rosso Nero d’Avola (£13.99 Grape and Grind) is a treat; it’s a natural wine (but is surprisingly un-funky) with stonkingly individual character. It smells like ripe redcurrants sprinkled with cinnamon, and on the palate there’s a red berry acidity with a hint of sweet balsamic – amazing with the vibrant basil. There is also a warming cherry flavour with a unique cranberrylike tannic structure, which is just great with the intense tomato. And then the black pepper finish is exactly what the aubergine needs. I’ve never tasted a red quite like it.

So, be you a red or white fan, let’s hope you fall in love with these pasta and vino combos as much as I did. Happy Valentine’s Day!

Recipe: spaghetti alla Norma

Andy Clarke is a freelance TV producer and writer; follow him on Twitter @TVsAndyClarke;