Vidya Singh checks out The Focaccia at The Hyatt Regency with a group of friends for some lunch and great conversation.
We lunch today at The Focaccia, the Italian connection at The Hyatt Regency Hotel, a trattoria styled restaurant, that will be showcasing to us food that comes from Southern Italy, Campania, Puglia, Calabria and of course Sicily, all areas that stretch from the ocean to the hills. These names themselves sound so exotic that we eagerly await what Chef Massimiliano Pauletto, will be presenting to us today. Chef Massimiliano himself comes from this very same region, and uses the best ingredients to create very authentic Italian dishes from these areas.
The food is certainly simple, very fresh and the flavours are individualistic. We settle down to enjoy the lunch and great conversation. Chef Pauletto, welcomes us in and assures us that the dishes are indeed authentic. Sharan Apparao, Benoit Olivier, Ranvir Shah and I look around and find that we are very comfortable in this casual, trattoria style space, which has been laid out with comfort in mind. Its rustic floors, and quaint wooden chandeliers and other Italian touches all add to the experience. At lunchtime there is a buffet of the Antipasti selection which is easy to choose from and the main courses could be selected from the menu.
Sharan Apparao is a leading art gallerist and curator, who travels the world, experiencing contemporary art in its varied forms. “Live to Eat and Enjoy” is her way of life, being an extremely creative cook and entertainer herself. Ranvir Shah is a cultural catalyst, who enjoys the world of business during the day and the worlds of all kinds of art in the after-hours. He strives to create islands of beauty even if they are temporary! Benoit Olivier, director of Alliance Francaise Chennai, has been a dynamic, driving force behind the organization during his few years in our city. My dining companions are all extremely well-travelled and have the intrinsic appreciation of fine food.
Chef Massimiliano has been creating food for over a decade and began his career in Milan and has a nouveau approach to Italian cuisine, that is lighter, healthier and possibly more funky! He has worked in Paris, London and even in South East Asia, but his food is inspired from his childhood memories of Italy and hence the simple holistic approach to food. With hobbies that range from yoga to deep sea diving, he brings an élan to Focaccia.
The food at Focaccia prides itself on being authentic, simple and fresh. And I get great feedback from all three friends. We tuck into the delicious focaccia bread that is a signature of the restaurant and the tangy sundried tomato dip that is on the table as a starting point. We then wander over to the counter where we can try all the starters, the Anti Pasti selection. For the vegetarians there is the eggplant, that is a part of every Italian selection, very soft and well made, there is a classic Tomato Mozzerella salad with basil, which Benoit gives a thumbs up to. An unusual baked onion with cheese that was what I went back for a second time, a delicious zucchini warm salad that was crisp and fresh. The tomato mushroom bruschetta has always been my favourite choice of starters and I always tend to order it at any Italian restaurant that I go to and this time as well it was pronounced great by all at the table! There was even a tossed salad on offer with vegetables and lots of salad leaves and a choice of dressings to go with it.
Benoit being the non-vegetarian among us gave us his take on all the starters and salad selections that were on the table. He pronounced that a lot of the recipes and the way things were cooked seemed to be from old recipes that from around Italy, and Chef Massi authenticated that as well, saying that several of them were from family recipes! The Beef Carpaccio Tenderloin was tender and perfectly sliced and got definite thumbs up, the Liver Pate with olives was absolutely perfect as well as the sliced cured parma ham salad. Benoit tried all the choices on that side of the table there were grilled prawns, calamari, sole and other seafood and pronounced them all excellent. There was a large round Cheese platter on the table that everyone took bits out of to accompany the antipasti spread, as well as a wonderful choice of breads.
Coming to the mains, we did need a bit of a break as we had indulged in so much of the starters! The pasta was simply delicious, especially for us vegetarians as my favourite is always the classic Aglio Olio that Chef Massi made with organic spaghetti, extra virgin olive oil and tossed with garlic and chilli and flavoured with parsley. This is so simple that the flavours of these ingredients do come through, before I used plenty of the grated parmesan and chilli flakes that were ion the table!. Benoit got pasta with a very rustic tomato based sauce with basil, tossed with some slow braised lamb. He again pronounced it very authentic.
The Pizza that was sent out was outstanding, a thin crust, filled with a delicious tomato sauce and plenty of roasted vegetables and every slice was eaten by the four of us!!
We finally came to the best part of the afternoon, the desserts! The berry pannacota was gentle on the pallatte and was great, but the highlight was most definitely the Tiramisu that was just outstanding. Chef Massi has got it just right. Benoit said that the strong taste of the coffee indicated that it was definitely an old recipe and this was authenticated by Chef. It was just right, not too sweet and I loved the coffee flavor with the hint of the slightly grainy texture of the cake crumble that was in it. Chef Massi said that he had not used any cream in it and had used only brown sugar. I began to contemplate another portion, but better sense prevailed and my guests, Sharan, Ranvir and Benoit all asked for coffee, and there were espressos and Macchiatos brought to the table to round off the wonderful meal.
Foccacia is a perfect place for a lazy afternoon lunch if you have the time or even a quick business meal if you don’t! We had a wonderful time with discussions on events coming up that all three of my guests, Ranvir with his Prakriti Foundation, Sharan and her Apparao Gallery and of course Benoit with the Alliance Francaise are all involved with over the next couple of weeks.