There is something inexplicably soothing about a business district after office-hours on a weekday. The lifts have stopped their annoying, ceaseless pings, the coughing printers have settled into a cosy silence, and the chairs have stopped their dizzy swiveling. The last occupants have left for the day, absently flicking off the lights on their way out, racing to catch the lift door, leaving a hushed, restful, and strangely comforting lacuna behind them…
It was at the end of one such very busy weekday that we found ourselves seated in a softly-lit, open dining area, surrounded by the steel and glass high-rises of the BKC business district zooming up towards the sky around us, collectively sighing in contentment as we settled into a leisurely journey of the culinary delights at Otto Infinito.
A fairly new addition to the Mumbai dining scene, this Mediterranean baby with its offering of hand-picked dishes from France, Italy, Lebanon, Tunisia, Spain, Greece, Turkey and Morocco – the 8 Mediterranean countries and its infinite culinary options that it represents – has had its teething problems since its birth 6 months ago. But a turnaround was always on the cards, given its pedigree (the successful team behind popular gourmet restaurants Yauatcha and Hakkasan) and presence in a nouveau business district teeming with a captive, yuppie audience. And turnaround they did, guided by the iron hands of Chef Azad, who also picked out a unique and aptly representative menu.
When the same tough Chef stepped up to our table with a friendly smile to ask our preferences, little did we know that a brief exchange on Mediterranean favourites would turn into a ‘3-hour-short’ stimulating conversation on the great chefs of the country and abroad, world cuisines and specialties, the new wave of molecular gastronomy, to city eateries and their wayward journeys, challenges of sourcing gourmet ingredients locally and even the role of Bollywood music in food! The Chef recommended a whole huge selection from the menu, and we joined in with gusto.
The Hot Potato Cold Potato Soup, lightly flavoured with black truffle oil, came and went quickly, as did the Crunchy Harissa Prawns and the surprisingly juicy Tahina Chicken skewers. When the deliciously crunchy and refreshing Cypriot Mixed Grain Salad arrived next, the conversation immediately shifted gear to our mutual favourite, George Calombaris of Masterchef Australia, and how the Aussies can’t get enough of this signature dish at his iconic Greek restaurant Helenic Republic in Melbourne (as George had smilingly confided to me right after my win at the Masterchef Cook-off in Mumbai!)
And then it was time for some supper theatre! The Rock Salt Fish arrived in a large pan straight from the oven, the whole foot-long fish crusted in a brick-like coating of coarse salt. Our server, with a flair for performance, chipped lightly away at the hard crust while chatting constantly, and revealed the soft, delicately-flavoured fish underneath, which landed on our plates briefly before melting on our tongues completely! The Kofte Tagine, served in the traditional cone-shaped earthenware pot, and the Moroccan Spare Ribs, with a lightly spiced side of couscous, were very nicely done. A lot to eat? You bet! But good food is seldom wasted, so we licked our plates clean of every last morsel before collapsing back on our comfortable chairs to breathe.
But wait, there was more! Chef Azad refused to let us go without giving us a taste of his dessert selection and insisted we take a walk around the kitchen to make some tummy space for the next round of debauchery. So we walked straight into a bee-hive of activity, with blazing ovens and sputtering pans and dishes getting dolled up on the pass and waiters whizzing them away. And yet, with all the flurry of activity, it was a surprisingly clean and organized space, sporting scrubbed steel surfaces, a giant pastry dough sheeter and fancy ovens with delicious dishes happily bubbling away inside.
Back at the serenity of our al fresco table, the desserts laid out ceremoniously looked so inviting – a Limoncello Sorbet, a Baked Cheesecake and a Belgian Chocolate Cake. The cheesecake was a tad dry. The Chocolate Cake collapsed wickedly into a rich gooey mess as our server poured caramel sauce on it, and it was entirely up to us how much of the mess we wanted to clean up with our spoons, forks and finally fingers. But the Sorbet was a revelation!
A perfect foil for an elaborate meal, it was weightless, tangy-sweet, fresh as rain, and served in a whole large Sorrento Lemon shell to remind you of its natural, piquant goodness. Sheer brilliance!
Throughout the evening, Teddy was suspiciously well-behaved, minding his Ps and Qs, contributing much more than his usual monosyllables between mouthfuls towards the food-centric conversation at the table. And then the inevitable happened! While casually licking off the last drop of sauce from the collapsed Chocolate Cake, he quietly placed an order for 2 MORE Limoncello Sorbets, without batting an eyelid, just for himself!!! And then, to the Chef’s obvious glee, promptly finished them up within seconds, all by himself! Hmpf!
Plate-Licker’s Wisdom: I love turnaround stories, don’t you? Especially if they’re this good! So I’m planning to turn around and go back to Otto Infinito, and it’s true and honest Mediterranean offerings – maybe this time for their elaborate 10-course tasting menu, if I can beat the queues 🙂