When Pawan Soni asked me to accompany him to the special food cum event review at the Maurya Sheraton on Saturday, the 16th February I accepted it with much gusto. The event was the celebration of the works of one of the pioneer’s of the Slow Food movement, Italian Chef Francesco Costagli who was showcasing some of his signature dishes at the ITC Maurya which event the hotel was using to introduce “how beautifully Fratelli wines pair with Italian gourmet” food. Fratelli wines is the fruit of an Indo-Italian collaboration producing locally made wines in the wine district of Maharashtra both for the Indian and the international market.
As the hotel’s news release described the event as a “symphony of Wine & Fine Dining”, it was with not any less anticipation that Pawan and I headed for the rarefied portals of the ITC Maurya on a rainy evening. We were a tad disappointed when we were shown to the Pavilion, the 24-hour coffee shop of the hotel. To my untrained but discerning mind, fine dining and coffee shop buffet are oxymoronic. I mean what kind of “symphony” and “fine dining” can one expect in the hustle and bustle of a 24 hour coffee-shop buffet offering? Nevertheless, not letting the choice of venue dampen our enthusiasm Pawan and I ventured forth, bravely.
We were greeted and seated at our table and the maître d’ gave a short discourse on Fratelli wines and the Italian food on offer. There were four dishes of Chef Costagli’s on offer as part of the regular buffet that evening and we were asked to feel free to also try any of the other dishes of the buffet spread. Declining the maître d’s generous offer of starting our evening with a glass of champagne for fear of benumbing our eager palate with the bubbly, we requested for a suitable wine. We were offered a Chiraz and a Merlot and we accepted the maître d’s suggestion to start with their Galouti kebabs accompanied by the Chiraz.
I am neither an oenologist nor a sommelier and to my plebeian taste buds the wine tasted fruity and acidic. However I look askance at whether the wine paired well with the Galouti kebab served which while being spiced generously had a dry, hard crust, the very antithesis of what a melt-in-the-mouth Galouti kebab should be.
Instead of the Ravioli d’Anatra, (duck filled pasta for the anglo-saxon readership here) as mentioned in the news release, we were served Grilled duck with garlic and sage sauce with an orange basting. Superb. Not a duck aficionado, I couldn’t but savour the succulent fowl with its aromatic sauce and the citrus-orange burst that greeted you in every morsel. Excellent.
After Pawan having asked for it, we were served Fratelli’s premium wine Sette. The offering was a balanced and smooth liquid, much less acidic than the Chiraz, with a hint of spice.
The Agnello alla Toscana, sautéed lamb with black olive failed to capture our imagination, as the dish was cold and indifferent to taste, perhaps set on the buffet table for goodness knows how long. And the elaboration mentioned in the news release “sautéed lamb with rosemary, onions, and lemon rind served with egg, parsley and lemon cream and artichoke soufflé” was most definitely missing in action.
On the other hand the Spinach and Ricotta Lasagnette while delectable could have done with fewer layers of the pasta sheets. Between some of the layers there were no filling and that made it a bit skewed on the starchy side than the wholesome one.
The vegetarian offering Tegamaccio Al Rosmarino, a tomato-based dish of mixed vegetables was light and flavourful and easy on the palate.
Having exhausted our meagre Italian gourmet dishes on offer, Pawan and I decided to try their Chicken Shawarma, which was being dished up live at the cooking station. What was served was nothing like any Shawarma that I had ever seen or tasted. On came two elegantly wrapped pita breads with multi coloured vegetables sticking out. Curiosity got the better of us and upon unwrapping the roll we discovered that the multi-coloured splendour continued inside too. And nothing else! There was no sign of chicken in the rolls. The station chef perhaps bogged down by his numerous preoccupations or urged by a genuine desire to swing us both carnivores onto a healthier path to culinary salvation, forgot to add in the chicken! Embarrassment and remorse flooded across his hapless visage when he came to offer his sincere apologies, which we readily and graciously accepted. I mean even a chef at a five star hotel restaurant needs a leg up, no?
Pawan urged me to try the Lamb Biryani. The bouquet of aroma that greeted one’s olfactory apparatus and wafted over the taste buds… this was the truly symphonic part of the meal that evening and it had no Italian connection.
Having been left on the food warmer for a lengthy period, the generously sized and wholesome looking Pork chops felt leathery, dry and hard to taste.
To satisfy our sweet tooth we surveyed the ample spread that was on offer. Pawan zeroed in on a Crème Brulee while I settled for a couple of scoops of ice cream and a chocolate pastry. The pastry was adequate while the ice creams were already melting in their bins. There were three different flavours on offer but just one scooper to scoop them out with, with no jug of water to rinse the scooper. So I ended up with an all in one mish mash of coffee, mango and papaya flavour. To his dismay, Pawan was deprived of the brulee in his crème, leaving him with a soft crème to scoop out and swallow, and not a hard caramelized crust to crack open and crunch. Our sweet tooth left us with a virtual toothache.
The champagne that was served at the end of the meal recalled to my mind Milton’s Paradise Lost. – “… they also serve who stand and wait”. It was better left standing in its bottle, unserved. It was no Fratelli.
If ITC Maurya attempted to create a symphony that evening, then the notes must have been in the ultrasonic range, beyond our ordinary human senses. A coffee shop buffet is not the place to showcase a Michelin restaurant starred chef’s and a pioneer in the Slow Food movement’s handiwork. No particular attempt was made to guide us with the wine and food pairing. The restaurant thermostat needed re-setting, it was hot which was evidenced by the melting ice creams. The gourmet dishes of the Italian chef’s should not have been left on the food warmer as part of a regular buffet offering. Well-healed Indian patrons exposed to varied global cuisines have come to expect certain standards on international gourmet offerings. And the same patrons however well heeled still need a bit of hand-holding when it comes to wine pairing given the lack of a wine drinking culture in our country.
Has the exit of Sheraton anything to do with the slip ups at the ITC Maurya? The cracked tiles, the inappropriate thermostat setting, the inconsistent and at times indifferent service, our water glasses needed refilling but were never done until we specifically requested for it, the lack of concern (don’t ask don’t tell) from the senior staff present about the issues that we faced during our meal there, having been invited for a wine and dine event, except for the two wines, nothing else was offered or showcased… is this sub-par experience worth a Rs. 2950/- price tag?
To sum it up, if there was a “perfect match in the finesse and expertise of ITC Hotels Sommeliers who delight guests with perfect pairing…” “…with various international cuisines”, we never got any hint of it and we were left un-delighted. The saving moment of the whole evening was the interesting chat that Pawan and I had with one of the Fratelli stake owners, Alessi Seccio who took time off his dining with a companion to talk to us about the provenance of Fratelli wines and where it is headed to. We learnt more about wines in those 10 minutes than in the entire evening at the restaurant.
Luckily it was a wine event and not a restaurant review, else we all know by now how well ITC Maurya would have scored.
– review by RK Geetha