I’m not a big fan of chocolate.
When my mother turned diabetic, I’d hide tins of Mackintosh’s Quality Street from her, then forget about them, only to find them years later. Even now, you’ll find chocolate cookies, chocolate bars and an assortment of chocolate candies hidden away in various shelves of the refrigerator, since neither the partner-in-dine or I particularly care for chocolate.
But I’ve always been curious about ingredients used in unconventional ways. In this case, a five-course meal centred around chocolate. (And, as I discovered, a separate chocolate cocktail menu as well.) Of course, as everyone knows it’s quite common to find chocolate being used as a spice in Latin American cooking and the national dish of Mexico is mole poblano de guajalote – turkey in a Puebla-style mole sauce.
Apart from the soup and dessert, the menu has three options per course. We were served single portions of all eleven dishes and all the four cocktails, and we did not regret it.
Our meal started on a very high note.
A gueridon-style cart was wheeled to the table, and Chef Roberto and Chef Santosh assembled the dish on the cart. Marinated, bright pink, diced pieces raw of tuna were fished out of a bottle, arranged on a plate brushed with dark chocolate and topped with micro greens and a milk chocolate cream. Scattered on the side, next to a bed of São Tomé sour cream were edible flowers and cubes of citron bread. I was quite amazed by how effortlessly the sweetness of the tuna combined with the chocolate and was balanced by the mildly tart sour cream. The crunch of the citron bread was a nice textural juxtaposition against the softness of all the elements on the plate.
The cocoa negroni we were served with this surprisingly paired quite well with the food; the bitter-sweet flavours and the hint of cocoa providing a contrast to the richness of the fish and the chocolate.
Our next two appetisers were equally stunning, visually, though I thought the glazed, boneless chicken wings glazed on a bed of celeriac was too uniformly sweet.
The soup turned out to be quite a surprise. Long shavings of white chocolate were dropped into an ivory-white cream of parmesan soup at the table. As the chocolate melted it created pockets of sweetness; each spoon of the salty soup finished with a touch of sweetness.
What I found intriguing with every dish was how chocolate had been woven into the fabric of flavours; its subtle presence registered as an underlying spice that simply added a new level of complexity. While all the dishes were reinvented with a modern edge and contemporary presentation, Roberto explained that they were very traditional in their origins. The almond crusted salmon with chocolate Martini sauce for instance was something he made regularly as a trainee chef in Italy.
From the bar Marsh and Tejas produced some more unique cocktails. The smoked bacon and chocolate Manhattan, though a tad messy, worked because they were restrained with their use of hickory smoke. It didn’t feel like you were drinking a beedi. I thought the chocolate donut and roasted marshmallow were a playful touch to a very classic old fashioned.
There were only two disappointments. You couldn’t taste the São Tomé Noir that had been worked into the dough of the pappardelle pasta and the Romano’s hot chocolate was far too milky. It tasted more like a spiced milk than a hot chocolate.
This was my second meal at Romano’s. The first time I visited was in December when Chef Roberto Zorzoli had just joined, and I was quite impressed by his cooking and his plating. I thought it was quite modern without compromising on traditional flavours. After this meal, I’m beginning to believe that Executive Chef Vishal Atreya and Chef Roberto will transform Romano’s into the finest Italian restaurant in the city. While the food is impeccable, I have to say I was also rather impressed by the service team, who were able to answer a barrage of questions from me and my dining companion, about the menu and the drinks. It’s not often that one witnesses such well-trained staff in five-star hotels.
It’s a pity A Chocolate Affair is running only for 10-days till the 3rd of April. I think the festival should have gone on for at least a fortnight.
A Chocolate Affair
Romano’s at JW Marriott Sahar
25th March to 3rd April, 2016
7 pm – 11 pm
Reservations: +91 7738554666/ +91 7710009223