“Never change a winning formula” goes the conventional wisdom and certainly the current formula at Zanotta seems to be working well for the Leela Kempinski Gurgaon. It is billed as an Italian restaurant, has its own wine library, is open only for dinner and was crowded to capacity on a Monday evening. On the other hand, Zanotta does not have an Italian chef and I found the food – delicious though it is – more in line with what is called modern European than classical Italian.
Don’t go looking for the Osso Bucco/Saltimbocca kind of home-style cooking that Mother makes because that is not what Zanotta is all about. This is a smarter, cleverer, trendier avatar that works well for the expatriates that fill the restaurant, evening after evening. The interiors of the restaurant are dimly lit, the better to show the view: the toll plaza is always a blaze of twinkling lights less than 100 metres away.
For my appetizer, I almost ordered Pan-seared Foie Gras with Vanilla and Anis Infused Pears (Rs 750) but instead opted for Caramelized Goat Cheese (Rs 600). The cheese was cut in a neat (and generous) portion and sat on a bed of lettuce with a drizzle of tomato concasse. The menu billed it as marmalade of beefsteak tomatoes. Considering that this type of tomato is rare around here, I found it inexplicable why anyone would want to use them in a marmalade. However, if you are a fan of the strong flavour of goat cheese, this dish is like manna in the desert and is highly recommended.
Occasionally, the kitchen goes overboard. Consider this: Fusilli Pasta in Creamy Pesto with Pickled Pumpkins and Caramelized Tomatoes (Rs 600). Why would you want to combine Basil Pesto with Tomatoes? Wouldn’t the flavours of one cancel the other one out? I was mystified. My risotto, I am pleased to say, did not suffer from the “everything plus the kitchen sink” syndrome. Billed as a chef’s special, it was made from barley as opposed to rice, and mercifully, was served al dente though I hadn’t mentioned it to the server. Creamy with a pleasant bite, the asparagus was plump and fresh and the carrot foam a non-intrusive dimension that shouted “molecular gastronomy”.
My main course was Grilled Tiger Prawns (Rs 1250) that was served with black risotto and mascarpone cheese. Delhi (and Gurgaon of course) being a land-locked city, it is impossible for restaurants to ensure fresh prawns that coastal cities take for granted. The prawns were large and while three of them were perfect, if a trifle overcooked, one was mealy and was past its sell-by date. It’s a common enough problem that I’ve encountered elsewhere in the city. It is tragic, and it shouldn’t happen, but it does, with never failing regularity. Far, far better than the prawns was the accompaniment of black risotto. The combination of mascarpone and black rice is not one that I’ve eaten before but it is a pairing made in gourmet heaven.
The lightest, least filling of the desserts seemed to be the old favourite: Tiramisu (Rs 400). Zanotta’s version was light as air, not too sweet and the Havana rum infused in it (the traditional liqueur is either Amaretto or Kahlua) did not overpower.
The Leela Kempinski Hotel, Ambience Island, Gurgaon
Open from 7 pm to 11.30 pm
Alcohol served; credit cards accepted
Meal for two: Rs 3,000