Bengal Sage tasting menu with Saurav Nath and Toscanaccio

The Bengal Sage has become a Winchester institution in the 3 short years since taking up residence on George Street. It’s the place that locals in-the-know go to wallow in slow-cooked buffalo bhuna heaven and enjoy surely the best onion bhajis in the country. Like any good neighbourhood restaurant, they like to keep things interesting for their regular customers by putting together special seasonal menus and holding one-off events, with proceeds often going to local charities.

This week saw the return of guest chef, Saurav Nath, with a summer-inspired 6-course tasting menu. Wine-matching came courtesy of Mirko Alighieri from Toscanaccio, the excellent wine-merchant-cum-deli-cum-wine-bar just round the corner on Parchment Street.

The menu:

Mulligatwny soup with rice dumpling

Cavit Primo Prosecco spago frizzante NV


Tandoori-glazed artichoke marinated with Kashmiri chilli and yoghurt; grilled asparagus; poached quail egg, orange and radish.

Montresor Soave Classico DOC 2012


Hand-picked crab patties; tandoori-grilled grey mullet, gram flour batter-fried lemon sole.

Donnafugata Polena DOP 2012


Mango sorbet with cumin salt


Pan-roasted rack of Hampshire lamb; green pea masala; roasted potato, sundried tomato, shallots and Chantenay carrots.

Planeta Plumbago IGT Sicilia 2011


Textures of fruit: Honey and mint caramel strawberries; peanut caramel banana; cinnamon & star anise mango; confit cherry; saffron ice cream; yoghurt lassi.

Negro Angelo & Figli Brachetto Birbet 2012


Before I start, I must apologise for the lack of photos – I didn’t take the Canon and ended up so engrossed in the food that I forgot phones have cameras these days.

The meal began with a delicately-spiced take on the 70s classic, mulligatawny soup which came with a deep-fried pilau rice dumpling, a little like an arancino. The accompanying wine was a frizzante Prosecco. Much less sparkling than the usual spumante Proseccos beloved of British supermarkets, the frizzante was a great match for the soup. I also found you could taste the delicate pear flavours that could have been overwhelmed by something more ferociously fizzy.

The starter course of artichoke and asparagus was one of the highlights of the evening. We later found out that Saurav is vegetarian, which perhaps goes a little way to explaining the amount of joy that was clearly put into this course. The tiny tender artichokes took on a delicious toasted flavour from the tandoor, while the just-cooked asparagus added bite. What could have been quite a discordant plate of food, with the addition of quails egg, orange and radish, actually worked in perfect harmony, yet with each flavour and texture remaining distinct.

This variety also made it a difficult course to match with wine and I was a little doubtful when I saw the soave being poured as it is so subtly flavoured. While I try not to discriminate against any wine style, my preference with whites is usually for something with high acidity and fairly assertive fruit or floral flavours. This suave, with its delicate honeysuckle aroma and creamy texture turned out to be a perfect match for the vegetables, somehow managing to taste even more of itself after trying the more intensely flavoured food. It also reminded me that if you stick too rigidly to your favourite styles, you can miss out on some really lovely wines.

The trio of seafood was almost like 3 separate courses in one, with each fish arriving garnished with its own accompaniment. The lemon sole was my favourite, encased in a beautifully seasoned, quite spicy batter, like the most perfect miniature chip-shop fish you can imagine. The grey mullet proved once more that the tandoor is perfect for more than just naan bread and chicken drumsticks, and the lightly pickled grapes made a great pairing. The final fish in the trilogy was hand-picked crab meat, made into a delicate crumbed patty and deep-fried. This came with rather a lot of intensely flavoured fresh tomato and tamarind chutney – delicious, but best used sparingly.

The Polena from Donnafugata was never going to be the perfect match for everything that was happening on the plate, but it is a delicious wine in its own right, the cataratto adding some welcome acidity to the apricoty viognier.

A mid-meal palate cleanser came in the form of a sublimely smooth mango sorbet with the unusual addition of cumin salt. I’m already a big fan of sweet-salty combinations, but the savouriness of the cumin also worked brilliantly and I would happily have enjoyed a more generous sprinkle. Definitely a combination that’s going to be gracing our kitchen table!

Our final savoury course was one of the most perfectly pink and juicy racks of lamb I’ve ever had the pleasure of eating. It came atop a minced lamb and pea masala with a tumble of spice-roasted potatoes, shallots and carrots on the side. There was a little minted pea foam that added a burst of flavour without adding any more weight to the dish, and a highly flavoursome crumbly powder that had an unbelievably long string of processes behind it, but which contributed a big whack of umami goodness to an already riotous plate.

Mirko needed a suitably big wine to match and successfully delivered with Planeta’s Plumbago. The wine was full of strong fruit flavours with a touch of sweetness and acidity, but very little tannin which can cause havoc when matching spicy food. I often enjoy La Segreta, a white from Planeta, when I go to Toscanaccio, so it was reassuring to see that the red is also good.

The final wine of the evening was a sweet and sparkling Bracchetto which had all the strawberry and yoghurt flavour of a black moscato, but with the most amazing deep cherry pink colour. Much like a moscato, it’s also very low alcohol – just 5 % – which makes it the most perfect picnic wine to be enjoyed with summer pudding or a big blousy apricot pavlova. It had a tricky job to stand up to the cornucopia of fruits on the dessert plate, but it worked wonderfully with the caramel strawberries, confit cherry and yoghurt lassi. I found myself almost grouping them into two separate puddings, with the peanut caramel banana, star anise mango and saffron ice cream forming a happy marriage on their own.

While I love Asian food and Italian wine, I would never normally think of putting the two together, but that evening proved that when the meal is sensitively spiced and the wines are well chosen, the results can be sensational.

The Bengal Sage

St George Street, Winchester, SO23 8AH

01962 862173


Wines with tasting notes & prices from Toscanaccio:


Cavit Primo Prosecco spago frizzante NV


This has a straw colour and small bubbles and semi-sparkling. A touch of pear and melon on the nose, this is crisp and clean with balance acidity and has a refreshing crisp finish



Montresor Soave Classico DOC 2012 

80%Garganega, 20%Trebbiano di Soave

An excellent example of good Soave. Fresh and lightly fruity with delicate floral aromas of honeysuckle, elderflower and a hint of spice. Crisp and refreshing on the palate with good depth of lemony fruit, lively acidity and a dry, lightly nutty finish.

£ 8.60


Donnafugata Polena DOP 2012

50%Cataratto, 50%Viognier

Bright straw yellow in colour, 2012 has a herbaceous perfume, with notes of field grass and spicy white pepper and apricots characteristic of viognier. On the palate. it has tropical fruit notes, especially mango, and a long, fragrant finish with a lifted, clean finish.



Planeta Plumbago IGT Sicilia 2011

100% Nero d’Avola

Abundace of red fruit like plum aromas, ripe blackberry typical of western Sicily Nero d’Avola blended with scents of cocoa, and almost Sacher cake. Soft tannins and roundness characterize the wine.



Negro Angelo & Figli Brachetto Birbet 2012

100% Brachetto

Cherry red with violet hues in the glass.Persistent creamy foam. Very aromatic fragrance of black grapes, strawberry, cinnamon, and rose petals. Balanced structure with fresh acidity, sweet, fruity body and very low, soft tannins.





73 Parchment Street, Winchester, SO23 8AT

01962 841223

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