While summer rages on across the country and we are doing all we can to keep our cool with sorbets and tall drinks and ice creams and salads (basically everything short of sitting on a block of ice!), it’s nice to know that somewhere in the world the weather is still lovely, the air is still dewy and spring blossoms are still blooming in abundance. And it’s even nicer to have that distant, gorgeous spring laid out on your dinner plate in all its profusion and beauty!
A few days ago, Chef Matteo Arvonio of Mezzo Mezzo, J W Marriott Juhu did just that for our small table, translating the many moods of the Italian spring into a stunningly-plated 5-course dinner. For those who don’t know Chef Matteo too well, he is married to a Bengali (and like all good Bongs, I too am proud to have him as our ‘Jamai’, as if I had something to do with it! 😉) I have seen how ecstatic my own Italian brother-in-law, Giorgio Fuggetta, gets while digging into Mom’s elaborate Bengali dishes. So I was not surprised to learn of Matteo’s love for the light and fragrant Daab Chingri – prawns cooked with coconut milk and served in a whole tender coconut. But when Matteo went on to list Shorshe Ilish (Hilsa Fish in Mustard Curry) and Mochar Ghonto (Banana Flower Curry) as his other favourites, I thought ‘Here’s another adventurous Italian boy who loves bold Indian flavours’. Naturally, I expected his special dinner to be bursting with robust flavours, as hearty and bold as an Italian Nonna‘s cooking. But boy, were we in for a surprise!
Right from the time the first plate was ceremoniously placed before us, the words that came to my mind were ‘delicate‘ and ‘intricate‘ – like Venetian lace, or the morning breeze leaving tiny ripples on the still blue waters of Lake Como. Poetic? Oh yes, like this plate of Marinated Red Prawns – fresh, large prawns delicately cured in a Sicilian-style ceviche that are almost raw, and yet beautifully ‘cooked’ and flavoured, without the fishy taste, yet tasting of the sea!
Then arrived the beautiful Culatello – a pink pile of thinly-shaved, premium ham paired with thin slices of fresh Green Pears, and a ball of home-made goat cheese marinated with onion ash! Hallelujah!
The Risotto, subtly flavoured with Quail jus, was exceptionally light owing to the use of Robiola Cheese, with a bright burst of edible flowers. And then came the Prawn Trio – prawns from 3 different regions of the world, cooked in 3 different ways, coming together harmoniously. The one thing that intrigued me here was the little mound of batter fried Zucchini Flower, stuffed with juicy prawn meat, something very close to the crisp-fried Pumpkin Flower that we Bongs have grown up on and can never get enough of!
Keeping the best for the last, Chef Matteo brought out his showpiece dessert – Limone e Limoncello – parfaits, semifreddos and yoghurts infused with Italian lemon, creating a refreshing symphony of citrus in your mouth.
The subtlety in the flavours, the finesse in the plating and the profusion of spring-fresh, colourful and delicate ingredients, all directly imported specially for the Spring Festival at Mezzo Mezzo, was quite an eye-opener for me, given that I have mostly experienced and loved the big bold flavours of Italian cooking so far. Hats off to Chef Matteo for an entirely new look at the intricacies of Italian cuisine, and for giving us a whiff of Italian spring, right here in summery Mumbai.