Why would somebody spend lakhs if not crores on setting up an Italian restaurant in their hotel, complete with pizza oven, sophisticated wine rack and open kitchen, and then spoil it all by naming it IT? I haven’t a clue as to whether the name is It or IT either.
However, if you look on the bright side, the curious name is the only thing that’s wrong with the restaurant. The interiors look like a winery in Tuscany: exposed stone walls and slatted wooden ceilings. The chef is from Tuscany and the menu is, it is safe to say, never been done before in India. You see, Chef Alfonso has spent over a decade in Thailand, and Thai user-friendliness has become part of his oeuvre. So all his antipasti, pastas, main courses and desserts have two components each. It has become his trademark. His other trademark is his pizzas. Four of them bear his stamp; my companion enjoyed her beetroot crust pizza topped with spinach, asparagus, shallot and mushroom (Rs 650). The crust was indeed pink, tinted as it was with beetroot. Other pizzas with the chef’s signature touch include a pizza sandwich and a calzone.
Chef Alfonso has refrained from putting chicken as a topping on pizzas or as an ingredient in pasta, but in many other matters he has bowed to desi tastes. Thus, there is a preponderance of vegetables on the menu, no tenderloin and well-cooked pasta unless requested otherwise. Usually, Italian chefs take the opposite route: pasta is served al dente unless requested otherwise, but his years in Bangkok have probably alerted him to the fact that Asians like their pasta well-cooked.
My seafood salad marinated with olive oil, lemon, balsamic, garlic and fresh spinach leaves (Rs 750) was largely unmemorable: a dollop of serious olive oil would have made the difference and balsamic vinegar was conspicuous by its absence. In hindsight, maybe I should have tried the smoked salmon roulade and smoked tuna fillet with mustard dressing (Rs 750). The lamb carpaccio (Rs 650) sounded distinctly non-kosher to me. Just because beef is not being used in IT, you can’t interpose another meat for carpaccio – a seafood, or even a beetroot carpaccio, would have been a more imaginative choice.
Even the risotto has the two-way treatment. My light lobster risotto with a hint of strawberry and four cheese risotto with vegetable (Rs 850) was perfect. The concept of doing a two-in-one dish is not easy. Both sides not only have to taste good individually, they have to fit together, no mean task when Italian cuisine has many rigid taboos. Such as the one about seafood and cheese together.
Saltimbocca is a typically Roman main course where an escalope of veal is pressed into a slice of ham and the two are fried with a dollop of white wine. Because IT does not use beef (and hence veal), Chef Alfonso did an imaginative take with chicken. He rolled a seasoned chicken breast and trimmed it into bite-sized pieces. Some he topped with Parma ham, others with fontina cheese. It’s on the menu as petto di pollo saltimbocca (Rs 1150) and it was the best dish of my dinner.
Bad news for weight-watchers: all the desserts contain a double whammy too. What’s more, you can opt for your own combination.
The Grand New Delhi
Nelson Mandela Road, Vasant Kunj
Open from 12.30 to 3 pm and 7.30 to 11.30 pm
Alcohol served; credit cards accepted
Meal for two: Rs 5,000