Thursday, November 15, 2012

Delicio - Italian food festival at Bene, Sheraton

Delicio, the Italian food festival at Bene, is the result of Sheraton Bangalore bringing to town Chef Enrico Fiorentini, the Executive Chef at the Sheraton Milan Malpensa Airport Hotel. The food being showcased during this fest is the food from the Lombardy region of Italy.

Chef Enrico Fiorentini
Photo credit: Sheraton Bangalore

While the popular notion is that the Lombardy regions cuisine has a lot of Swiss influence, Chef Enrico has a slightly different take on it. He says that Switzerland itself doesn't have a very strong gastronomic tradition, and has taken a lot of influences from France, Germany, and Italy, and so the 'influences' in Lombardy food comes mainly from France. Chef also spoke about how being a slightly hilly, landlocked region meant that the food incorporated almost everything grown in the region. Even the famous Minestrone soup, which usually contains pasta when served in other parts of Italy, has rice in it!

Some of the starters we were served were very reflective of the philosophy of Lombardian cuisine. The use of a lot of vegetables and polenta, which is one of the most prominent starchy foods. Seafood isn't eaten much - obviously, the coast is quite far! - but the consumption of other meats is quite high, with veal and beef making up for a bulk of the proteins and pork coming in closely behind.


The fest at Bene will be an a la carte setup and there's a special menu apart from the regular menu at Bene. One of the starters we had, a timbale of stewed lentils and roasted pumpkin with almond velouté and a Parmesan cheese crisp was very reminiscent of a classic, 'earthy' dish. The flavours were earthy and yet light. I'm not a big fan of a strong Parmesan flavour, so I didn't like the taste of the crisp all that much, but in terms of technique, it was brilliant.

Timbale of stewed lentils and roasted pumpkin with almond cream velouté and Parmesan crisp

We then proceeded onto the next course - not the main course - called the Primi piatti di pasta, or the pasta course. As mentioned before, seafood isn't really big in the Lombardy region, but they do 'import' it from the south, and make a few dishes. The ravioli we had was custom made - stuffed with seafood instead of the usual pumpkin - and was superb. The shell wasn't too thick, and was boiled for just enough time to ensure it's firm and not pasty. The seafood inside wasn't over cooked, and the basil oil on the plate was a nice addition along with the standard balsamic vinegar artistry.

Seafood ravioli with basil oil

For the meat course, we had a butter pan fried lamb chops in a herbed polenta crumbing. The cut of lamb chops that we got was outstanding. I mean, look at the snap below (click the image for a larger, better view) and check out how much meat is present on the bone, and the portion of the bone exposed. Lovely. It was served with a pumpkin risotto. I'm not a big fan of strong cheese in a risotto, so this one didn't get a smile from me, but in terms of being cooked, it was nicely done. The lamb chops were divine. Done medium, these were stacked up proudly on a plate, with a glaze sauce. Personally, I'd have liked to have had one of the traditional beef or veal dishes, like perhaps an ossobuco, or even a rabbit dish that's there on the menu.

Butter pan fried lamb chops in a herbed polenta crumbing

Finally, for dessert, or dolci as they say in Italian, we had a combo of sorts. In the foreground and at the 12 o'clock position is a polenta and dark chocolate timbale, and on the horizontal plane is a Parmesan cheese ice cream (left) and red wine poached pear. The Parmesan ice cream was a pleasant surprise. I thought it was plain vanilla until my nose crossed over the spoon and I got a waft of the Parmesan aroma. It went well with the poached pears as it cut the acidity from the red wine and the general acidic nature of the pear fruit. The dark chocolate was rich and creamy.

Assortment of desserts

The Italian food festival at Bene is a little different in the sense that the menu is not all pastas and pizzas, and certainly not the usual flavours you get, which are typically from the southern half of Italy. However, it is quite an interesting perspective to the food from a country where we usually only get to eat the food from the lower half of the country.

                                               Delicio - Italian food festival
                                         Dates: Till the 18th of November 2012
                                         Venue: Bene, at Sheraton Bangalore
                                         Mode of dining: A la carte

Monday, November 5, 2012

New menu at Shao - Park Plaza

Shao is the Chinese restaurant at the Park Plaza hotel in Marathahalli, located next to the multiplex. Recently, Shao went 'under the knife', and the surgery in this case was a complete revamp of their menu. I wasn't able to attend the launch of the new men; however, I did get invited to a dinner where a select number of dishes from the new menu were put on focus and served to all the guests who were staying in-house, as well as a few select folks.

The customary Chinese tea was served into some very nice China, and the chilly night wind that had managed to seep through my thick skin and was tingling my bones while I was outside was quickly contained. I limited myself to just one cup - any more and I knew I'd be over doing it, and declining completely seemed...rude (I don't know why). The real 'warmer' came next - a Thai mojito. With an almost freaky red colour, the Thai mojito actually did the trick. It wasn't too potent, but had enough buzz in it from the spices and the alcohol to actually whet my appetite. The last time I was here for the Melange brunch, the cocktails were quite a hit with my friend and me. This time around wasn't any different.

 Thai mojito

We started off with a lemon coriander soup. The soup tasted good, but I'd have really liked it if it was a clear soup and not a semi thick soup. And then, the starters began to arrive. Two kinds of sui mai - chicken and veg - made their way to the table, and in no time were these dim sums polished off. Going through the menu, I'd have liked to see a slightly larger variety of dim sums on the menu, given that this is a Chinese place. It would have been a great way to differentiate themselves from the other Chinese restaurants.

The prawn tempura with the wasabi mayo sauce was a really very good - just the right amount of tempura flour used to coat the prawn, and fried to perfection. I didn't want to seem greedy, so settled for two pieces. In hindsight, I should have had a couple more :) The veg spring roll is a good option for vegetarians, and it's surprisingly not very heavy in spite of being deep fried.

The chicken with roasted chilli paste and yellow rock sugar sounded very Thai - roasted chilli pasted, yellow rock sugar - very Thai, and the taste didn't disappoint one bit. While the lack of several other Thai ingredients in the dish can be questioned, and also the spice levels, the taste of the chicken and the amount of time it was cooked for were great. The chicken was still succulent and juicy, and the spice levels didn't make you reach out for your glass of water. The last of the veg dishes, the crispy fried wild mushrooms was pretty decent, but I didn't really pay too much attention as to how many types of mushrooms were int he dish.

Lemon coriander soup

On to the mains, but before that I had another round of the mojito. The chef had come and spoken to us in between and checked on us before heading in to work on the food. For the main course, there were quite a few options that were presented on the special menu that was on offer, but I was a bit disappointed that there was not a single pork dish offered, given that Chinese cuisine wouldn't be complete without pork. The menu did have Cantonese roast pork or roast pork ribs, and that would've been perfect!

The two non veg dishes in the main course - the sliced chicken with pokchoy and mushrooms as well as the sliced river sole with mint and pepper sauce - were brilliant. The river sole in particular was quite refreshing as most places now used that blasted basa for white fish. The sole had a mildly sweet taste to it, and a slightly firm texture. The fish went perfectly with the mint and pepper sauce it was served with. The sliced chicken, on the other hand, was a slight contrast to the fish. The meat was tender, and the mushrooms in the dish gave a slightly musty flavour to the dish.

Vegetarians who like tofu, the tofu and pokchoy stir fry with Schezwan sauce is one of those dishes you could opt for. Silky in texture, and slightly spicy in taste, this is perhaps ideal to club with a simple fried rice. The assorted string beans with garlic and chilli seemed like a very blah dish, but the beans we were served were crisp and tender, with the garlic-chilli combo providing in taste what the beans provided in texture. The shredded potato stir fry with spring onions and soy sauce seemed better as a starter is the sauce wasn't as watery, as it would be fun to pick up the string thin potato and munch on it. The standard carbs were provided in the form of fried rice and noodles.

Tofu and pokchoy stir fry with Schezwan sauce

Sliced river sole with mint and pepper sauce

Sliced chicken with pokchoy and mushrooms

Finally, after all this food, there was dessert, and a fresh fruit roll with ice cream was served. The fruit rolls, although seemingly deep fried, was quite nice and didn't feel too heavy at the end of the meal. Maybe it was just the ice cream and some psychological thing, maybe it wasn't.

Overall, we had a nice meal. When it comes to the new menu that Shao has put out, it still seems a little conservative in terms of the dishes on board, almost as if they were playing it a little safe. A little more adventurism and a little more depth in the menu would have set them apart from the rest by a long shot. However, this could just be the first of many changes, so hopefully this brings them the success it was intended to, and hopefully that in turn leads the chef to get a little more bold with the selection of dishes.

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