Ah, Il Becco. By far the least enjoyable, most expensive dinners I have ever had in Mexico have been at Becco al Mare, Acapulco. It’s one of those places you’re forced to go to, usually with people you don’t really like because your worlds happen to have collided by the sea. You leave poor, unsatisfied and depressed, and wishing you’d fled to the hills of Tixtla when you had the chance.
Anyway, on the recommendation of Italian friends, I was told that the Il Becco in the Four Seasons, Mexico City was on the contrary excellent, and that I should give the restaurant group (there are now five Beccos) another shot.
The seven of us were seated at a large round table beneath a Murano glass sculpture made up of dozens of small glass figurines, caught mid-tumble on their way to their deaths in the spiky grissini purgatory beneath.
Having looked at the menu, my husband and I were both at a loss as to what to order: nothing looked quite right. There were flavoured oils (‘vintage’, ’smoked’ etc), ‘ashes’, ‘essences’, ‘foams’, ‘gelées', and ‘textures’ - like one of those early 2000s modernist Italian restaurants that only ever existed in 5* hotels in New York, Las Vegas and London frequented by Russian oligarchs and Arabs. I wanted to impale myself on said grissini.
I ordered the burrata because I didn’t fancy any of the other starters (despite it coming with lobster and white asparagus - it seemed the lesser of various evils) and then a pasta with deep sea prawns ‘and their coral’ sauce which, coral fiend that I am, sounded good.
And so to the wine list. The Becco Group have an enormous cellar, and buying power, and when I found out the wines of Arianna Occhipinti had just arrived ten days ago from Sicily (they are importing them directly), I was more than happy to forgive them their ‘textures’ and ‘ashes’. Arianna is one of my favourite winemakers - she was just 24 when she released her first vintage in 2006 (with just one hectare), and since then has become something of a star in the natural wine movement, now farming around 24 hectares bio-dynamically in Vittoria. Her wines are subtle, feminine, beautifully perfumed and full of the life and joy you want from a Sicilian wine. I ordered her 2013 ‘Siccagno’ Nero d’Avola, thinking ‘what the hell is a wine like that doing in a place like this?’, but encouraged that if someone at Becco was importing wines like this, the food couldn’t possibly be that bad, could it?
Unfortunately, I was abruptly brought back from my Occhipinti revery by my starter. Whoever decided to put burrata with lobster and white asparagus has clearly never tasted it. They are truly miserable bedfellows, screaming in silence together on the plate like the morning after a disastrous threesome - the lobster was salty, frigid and rubbery, smeared with the burrata’s cream, which had spread all over the place in a shameful mess. Meanwhile the white asparagus just hung around awkwardly, drowning in stracciatella. The unhappy ménage a trois was underpinned by the persistence of one of the aforementioned flavoured oils - I believe this was a lemon infused olive oil, but someone might as well have drizzled limoncello over the plate.
My husband’s carpaccio of beef ‘with olive oil powder’ was completely tasteless. Perhaps it was meant to be merely a ‘texture’ of beef. My brother-in-law, born in Rome, ordered one of the specials, which was a crudo of three sad little pieces of different raw fish, like three pieces of wet kitchen towel, with their own individual flavoured olive oils. The most unmemorable pieces of raw fish he’d ever eaten? Quite possibly. His agnolotti, stuffed with ‘three meats’? ‘Regular!’ as they shout in the Plaza de Toros.
My bavette (a narrow tagliatelle) with Atlantic shrimp and shellfish coral tasted as if someone had poured an insipid tinned lobster bisque over a plate of pasta.
I began to realise the problem with the food at Il Becco is that, much like the ‘tea liquid’ Douglas Adams famously describes in his A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, it’s ‘something almost, but not quite entirely unlike Italian’. The basics are all on the menu: there’s risotto, various pastas (fresh and otherwise), ingredients like burrata and pecorino and morels and pistachio… but somehow everything is put together wrong and has all the life drained out of it before it’s served. Eating here makes you assume you must be starting a head cold and that your senses have been slightly deadened - which would be more or less acceptable if it weren't so extraordinarily expensive.
Il Becco’s shortcomings were unfortunately made all the more obvious by the sheer brilliance of the wine. When you have a wine that really sings, and is as full of authenticity, life, and Sicily, as Arianna Occhipinti’s, you simply cannot have dead food. Perhaps if we’d ordered a dead wine, like one of the dreadful Robert Parkerised Supertuscans on the wine list, it would have been less obvious, but wines like Arianna’s shine a beaming light on mediocrity and pretension. My advice? Go to Il Becco and buy Arianna’s wines to go. This is no place for them. #freeArianna
Wine List: 10 (just for having Arianna Occhipinti)
Atmosphere: 5 (what you’d expect at the Four Seasons)
Value for money: 1