I'll admit it - I wasn't entirely sure what burrata was when I read about the new menu touting the stuff at Italian bolthole Babbo on Albemarle Street in Mayfair.
But that's what is so great about London cuisine these days, we have access to so many top-quality ingredients we wouldn't normally play with in this country. Burrata is in fact a soft cheese not unlike buffalo mozzarella, though perhaps a little milkier in flavour. That's because it, well, basically is mozzarella, with cream added and then bound.
And like the mighty buffalo mozz, it combines being both the primary function of a plate of food and not overpowering the taste buds. I guess that's why the cooks at Babbo find it so malleable, you can stick it in a variety of situations and it does a job.
The restaurant flies its burrata over from Italy several times a week. And they're so in awe of it that they decided to create a bespoke menu dedicated to the stuff. Costing £55, you get four courses, all with the artisan cheese from Caseificio Maldera front and centre.
The simple lump of burrata and tomato with a light dressing was a good start, though Britain's inability to produce a tomato as glorious as those on the Continent let the side down slightly. Anyone who's spent any time in mainland western Europe must get so dispirited once they taste the tomatoes you get in Britain compared to the sweet, fruity flavours of those you find in the middle of France for example. The kind you can eat with your hands like an apple. I know I do.
The pasta course was tart and spicy and delicious. The presence of nduja, meat not unlike chorizo but even more chilli-fied gave it extra tang. Probably the highlight though was the main course. That was helped by a fantastic piece of rare steak which complemented its cheesy associate perfectly. Not so sure about the scrape of tapenade, which my dining companion said looked a bit like someone wiping their muddy shoes. I agree, but then I've never been one for those cheffy flourishes.
Perhaps the best use of the main event was in the pud though - a cool, creamy yoghurt-y concoction with the just right hint of sweetness. I was particularly in awe of the milk skin around it. It gave the dish a homemade quality.
So can a cheese be a menu centrepiece? Yes, if it's high-quality and cleverly-utilised. For me, I may not be able to fly in my own burrata, but I certainly intend to find some for myself to try out at home.
Other uses for burrata:
Pizza - pretty simple, really. Just substitute the mozzarella.
Salad - a few rocket leaves, some prosciutto, bit of vinaigrette. Healthy but robust.
Stuffed peppers - whack it into the bells and roast.
Figs - stick it on good quality homemade bread, served with some figs.