From Truffle scented eggs to the most comforting zuppa, here's a tour of Tuscany on a plate
Pasta la vista, baby. That should sum up with the first five minutes of our conversation with Executive Sous Chef Binayak Tamang. Settling in at Spectra, The Leela Palace Chennai — for a preview tasting of a festival titled ‘Under the Tuscan Spell’ this strikes us as ironic at first. But chef Binayak has us hooked (even before the fish arrives) when he says, “There is so much to Italian cuisine beyond the pasta.” We’re sold and a tad intrigued to see what he has in store.
What’s an Italian main course without good ol’ penne or spaghetti right?
Well let us Tagliatelle (our solitary pasta dish of the evening) you: Truffle scented poached eggs with chargrilled asparagus that give us some crunch, subtle slivers of parmesan and the glorious pink of parma ham for starters. Not bite-sized, this could make for a light meal at any time of day. And we like that this classic initiation to flavours of Tuscany hasn’t as one would expect — begun with ravioli or soup!
More twists to our Tuscan tale follow. Our Blackberry yoghurt pannacotta is a deep pink, that almost matches our fragrant red Brancaia IG TRE, Toscana 2015. The latter is best had with the Slow Roasted Lamb Chops paired with gratin potatoes, with that lovely browned veneer of cheese on top. Flown in from New Zealand, this is perhaps the only bit of produce that is imported, apart from the Tuscan wines, we are told. We also observe that instead of rich and indulgent-with-cheese bases of sauce, this cuisine from the heart of Italy is less fuss and more wholesome. “It’s a rustic, simple style of cooking,” says the chef, as we try a spoonful of snapper in a beautiful saffron broth of citrus-y goodness (with rind shavings of orange, lime and sweet lime). The broth is so delicious, we find it a little bit of a task to lay our spoon to rest and move on. But move on we must.
There is a buffalo mozzarella to be had that is so perfectly white and soft — we could squeeze in a snuggle. While the Bay Crab Tartare which approaches our table later on bears the finesse of painting — with delicately plated beads of bright orange salmon roe and pops of green from the avocado curd. The Deconstructed Tiramisu with an epic coffee (Lavazza pura gusta) ice cream that awaits us, is also devoured with expected satisfaction.
Oddly enough, our Mamma Mia moment of the evening is neither dessert nor cheese or wine. In fact, we find ourselves raving about perhaps the most modest dish of the night — the Zuppa Robollita. Translation: Tuscany beans and vegetable soup paired with chicken roulade and a crisp-for-contrast sourdough crostini. Buttery to taste, because of that distinct quality of cannellini beans — we’re surprised to discover that the veggie broth base bears no butter, cheese or indulgence of any sort. We find comfort in its warmth and a sense of home in each spoonful, which seems odd, given that home is right here in Chennai. Now we know what it means when they say that food knows no boundaries.
On till August 19. Meal for two is Rs 1,800 plus taxes. Set menu available for the same price.
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