Flavours of Italy

Last Updated: Sat, Nov 10, 2012 04:11 hrs

Malini Bhupta checks out Serafina, the Mumbai branch of the well-known restaurant in New York, and comes away charmed by the delicate flavours of north Italian cuisine.

For gastronomes in Mumbai, it is time to head to Serafina, New York City’s über cool restaurant specialising in north Italian cuisine which has recently opened a branch at the Palladium Mall in Phoneix Mills, Lower Parel. Serafina in the Big Apple is an iconic restaurant that has played host to celebrities such as Leonardo Di Caprio, Lady Gaga, Kanye West, Sharon Stone and Lindsay Lohan, to name a few. The Mumbai branch is the 15th in the world and the second in Asia. Vikram and Sant Singh Chatwal have helped founders Vittorio Assaf and Fabio Granato make their India debut.

The sunny yellow and black décor gives the restaurant the feel of a fine diner. But Serafina also has plenty of cosy corners for tete-a-tetes, along with a café which is separated from the main dining area by a wine rack. The walls are covered with frescos by Michela Martello, painted especially for the Mumbai eatery which depict a winged angel — the meaning of the word “serafina” — set against the flaming sun. Elements that symbolise north Italian cuisine are also scattered around the interiors.

But make no mistake — the real star of the show is the food. The menu and the food are the same as at the New York restaurant. So diners in Mumbai get exactly the same Prosciutto — thinly sliced, dry-cured Parma ham that is priced Rs 1,250 and is the most expensive item on the menu — which the restaurant serves in New York and Philadelphia. Nor have Assaf and Granato localised the food to suit Indian tastes (what a relief!). The only concession to the spice-loving Indian palette are the canisters of crushed red pepper placed on every table.

For those who think that garlic is the main ingredient of Italian food, here’s the thing — the cuisine of north Italy gives it a miss entirely, preferring milder and more sensual ingredients such as truffle oil, fresh tomatoes and mozzarella to create a unique flavour. Truffle oil is an ingredient used to impart the aroma of truffles to a dish — and no, truffles are not used in the oil. Dishes are also not loaded with too many flavours. None has more than six or seven ingredients. Granato, Serafina’s co-founder, says: “Our sauces are much lighter than the other regions in Italy. For example, south Italian dishes have a thick, heavy sauce.”

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We begin the meal with Serafina Chicken Salad, made of grilled organic chicken breast, an assortment of greens including mesclun and romaine lettuce, sun-dried tomatoes, raisins and pinenuts with a pesto dressing. What gives this salad a zing is the freshness of all ingredients used.

Next comes the Pizza Margherita. A simple pizza made of basil, tomatoes and cheese, this is a perfect representative of north Italian cuisine in which all the flavours are distinct without being overpowering. Granato says: “The pizzas are made with 00 flour. They are so light that you can eat an entire pizza without feeling full.” In Italy, flour is categorised according to how finely it has been ground. Double zero flour, also called dopio zero, is a highly-refined variety that is as fine as talcum powder and makes a pizza base that is white and extremely soft. We can vouch for that, having easily wolfed down an eight inch Pizza Margherita. Serafina offers three varieties of Pizza Margheritas.

Serafina’s main courses are pure sin. We tried the homemade Ravioli filled and sautéed with porcini mushrooms and Petto Di Pollo Alla Milanese (chicken breast, pounded and breaded with tomatoes and basil). Like the pizzas, the pastas too are light on the stomach but full of flavours.

Serfania also has an extensive wine menu comprising everything from the German Rieslings, to the Super Tuscans from Tuscany in north Italy and Chablis from France. The Jean Claude Dagueneau (from the Pouilly Fume region of the Loire Valley) is a medium-bodied wine with crisp and smoky flavours that goes well with most dishes. For those who prefer their beers and spirits, the bar is well-stocked in these too.

The restaurant also has a separate dessert menu, which offers eight options including Focaccia alla Nutella (small, thick pizza base topped with Nutella and banana) and Panna Cota. The chefs claim that their Tiramisu is just the way grandma made it. While we don’t know about that, we tried it and found that it was worth every rupee it cost.

Undoubtedly, the food meets the mark, if authentic Italian is what you are looking for. However, Italian food, especially if it is authentic, does not come cheap.

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