Italian summer festival
by chef marouane
Hyderabad has its own share of star property restaurants which provide unparalleled dining experiences and its very need of current food scenes to be in the keep the social buzz on regular basis. Westin Hyderabad an eminent brand is known to host unique food festivals where each fest is experience one of a kind. PREGO, with a elegant pool side view , is its prominent Italian restaurant thats got its share of loyalists and fanbase. Food festivals are a strategic move to showcase a particular cuisine or something unique to customers where by the buzz is eminent. Westin does stands out from its competitors by not just doing just another food festival but with a perspective and a twist to it.
My first visit to Prego, Westin (finally) happened where Gastrohogger was invited to try their "Italian Summer Festival" starting from 23rd Jun till 01 July, '18 showcasing refreshing and health focussed menu curated by Chef Marouana Rahali. He has been flewn down from Courtyard Marriott, White Fields, Bengaluru to bring in something known for Italian cuisine but yet something new. Quite confusing isn't it. Post dinner experience with Chef and his curated menu, all I can vouch for is , its one of a kind indeed and not to be missed as he brings in something new to palate even if you are hardcore Italian food lover.
As we sat down to start our meal, we had a introduction with Chef who then explained about his theme and its all about "Italian Summer Menu" which ironically is done when Hyderabad is already whimsically gone past summer heats. Worry not, the logic is pretty simple and its summer in Italy. People love to eat healthy and add more of vegetables and fruits to be hyderated in summers and at same time keep them refreshing as the head on to beaches to unwind themselves. Chef Marouane who has roots from Milan, the fashion capital in North brings some of his grand ancestors passed recipes with modern twist where its all about simple ingredients, simple making and the quality of ingredients make the WOW factor.
"Italian food is all about ingredients and its not fussy and its not fancy" - rightly put by renowned Chef Wolfgang Puck.
With influence from families over regional cuisines from North, Chef also has worked in other regional influences in Italian cuisine and the moment he said there are around 20 odd varieties of raviolis , I was flabbergasted to the max. I mean all we know of two layered pasta with some kind of stuffing and steamed and then our Italian knowledge takes a dead end for sure. We all have been exploited to loads of cheese, less quality of olive oil in the name of Italian cuisine and may be we indeed don't understand this cuisine as much as it needs to be. Chef aptly brings out the fact just like even if you take telangana cuisine, there are many variations and varieties across each region. Biryani has umpteen variants depending on the region and spice levels of local palate and similarly Italian cuisine is very deep rooted to have influences in many forms. Hence pasta could be all the way different in north than in south.
Chef rightly ended his note by stating you will experience Summer through my dishes and we couldn't be more excited when newly joined executive Chef of Westin Mindspace, Chef Mahesh Padala said some of these new would make into prego's regular menu while 30-40 % of their best sellers would indeed keep their spots. So indeed much should have been gone to curate such a menu and the discussion made the expectations sky high and we were in for to savor Chef's servings with these gyaan over a cuisine that I indeed feel is as complicated as Indian but yet simple (may be for me , its under rated in Hyderabad still).
To those who need to get context of Italian cuisine, Chef's reference was brilliant. The tricolor flag of Italy has red , white and green. Chef said those indicate the 3 prime ingredients of their cuisine deep rooted into pretty much every dish. Green represents basil, white for mozarella cheese and red for tomato which is now very logical of why he said so :) Ain't it so cool ???
The whole menu has been divided into 5 courses - anti pasto (first course of the meal) aka appetizers , Primi Piatti (primarily starches like gnocchi, risotto and paste), pizza, Secondi (ususally referred as entrees including meat plates or even veg) and finally Dolci desserts).
Side note : Interesting read about Italian course meal at https://www.huffingtonpost.com/Menuism/italian-meal_b_2626155.html
We started off with pizza montanara (which was served as a traditional amuse bouche) . Its basically fried pizza served in a single serve size and has the essential cheese, pesto and tomato sauce which makes the bloodline of pizza. Interestingly referred as "Italian pani puri" by Chef (pun intended), this indeed was a palate tone setter as you could get the feel on one bite into pizza heaven. The fresh basil leave on top added the extra notch. Then came in salad which is aptly named summer salad as it has fresh fruits, veggies and gives an overall refreshing sense. We had the beef summer salad named as Insalata Estiva which had mildly cooked beef slices (so soft and melt in mouth kinds) , summer fruits like melon, feta cheese, sun dried tomatoes, carrots , tomato vinaigrette and asparagus. A perfect symphony of fruit - sour - tangy and yet so refreshing feel on firs bite. Its nothing like you expect to be coming from a beef salad but indeed it is.
We then moved on to Primi under which we were served an off the menu dish of Chicken Ragout served with potatoes and red pepper peperonata and of course generous drizzle of balsamic vinegar. The perfectlo cooked chicken slives and the balance from the potatoes was apt and a nicely made dish as such.
It indeed was pizza time and Chef served us a veg which is a classic and another meat variant but I should say "pizza is love". To me the quote always connects when it comes to pizza "Why cant any one look at me like how I look at pizza" lol. That's how much I love pizza but we have been insanely exploited to agree the overloaded thick desi variants as pizza when the authentic ones are the most thin varients you could find.
Bianca con pesto e bocconi di promodoro (translated) White with pesto and tomato morsels. Its not your regular pizza as it has no sauce in the base which is the unique and we normally not ware of it. This variant was made with sun dried tomatoes, mozzarella cheese , olive oil and herbs and rest is magic. This slice defined what REAL PIZZA is all about. Simple ingredients - simple dish but divine flavors.
The next meat variant was Come piace allo chef (translated to "As the chef likes" done with tomato sauce, mozzarella, gorgonzola cheese, prawns tossed in basil pesto , jalapeno and rocket leaves. As the name suggests, "As the chef likes", its interpretation of each Chef's liking and thought process. Chef's own version of this was brilliant as the prawns with that basil pesto cleansed the palate with one level fo flavors when the mozzarella cheese added the sticky texture to it and makes the overall pizza irresistable.
Then came in the other part of Primi (starch dishes). In came Ravioli ripieni di patate e broccolli, salsa di pomodorini e basilico (translated as Ravioli stuffed with potatoes and broccoli, tomato sauce and basil) and the green color tortellini was from the broccoli extraction and infusion into the dough. The dish was subtle and exactly what we would expect from a ravioli dish.
Next came in ravioli di pollo con salsa ai funghi (translated chicken ravioli with mushroom sauce) which also was equally appetizing and the rich mushroom sauce was indeed heavenly. Now we almost got the whole experience of the festival but Chef told he has something that we normally might not expect from a meat dish but here it is and indeed it added the surprise element.
From secondi (main entree or main course) came in agnello al caffe mousselini di patate verdurine estive (translated 'lamb with coffee mousseline potato summer vegetables') was an interesting dish as you normally cannot relate espresso (coffee) with meat and it feels weird when you picture it in your head but not on Chef's I presume. He did insist on his twist to infuse the espresso sauce at the right amount that you get the smokiness and the dark intense flavors from it while the tender juicy meat seats over white sweet sauce along corn salad. The combination might look quite weird but then as you slice down the meat and savor one bite of all the elements, you do realize IT WORKS.. The meat could have been medium rare and more soft for me as it was more on well done side. But nonetheless the espresso indeed works. The elements do work harmoniously that this dish is indeed quite a surprise of the night.