Warm breeze, sipping Prosecco, dining al fresco in Naples? Now available in Chennai at Foccacia Restaurant at the Hyatt Regency. Italy has come to Chennai!
From the considerable number of Italian restaurants around Chennai, it seems that not only expats but local Chennaites have a special place in their palates for pizza and pasta and tiramisu. But based on our observations since we moved here, we were still yearning for the tastes—and the aromas and the ambience—of an authentic Italian trattoria. So how could we find that true experience of Italy without our passports? Enter a timely invite from Mridul Khosla, Assistant Manager, Public Relations, for the Hyatt Regency Chennai, to sample Il Grande Pranzo and Sarah and I were on our way with no jet lag.
Focaccia, the Hyatt’s notable Italian venue, had been on our must try list, with its renowned Chef Mauro Ferrari and its distinctive yet comfortable surroundings, so we were eager to give it a mangiare. While the newly launched Poolside Pranzo (pranzo simply means lunch in this case) was inviting, Mridul and Chef Mauro suggested we dine inside so we could bask in the overall atmosphere and enjoy the full menu. We felt right at la casa with a table by the window where we could take in the setting with its evocative mosaic floors, dark beamed ceilings, open kitchen with its steam and sizzle, and the roaring wood fired ovens. Mridul suggested we try a delightfully crisp prosecco followed by a bellini and we knew we were off to a great start.
After a tour of all the stations with Chef Mauro, we circled back to the antipasti bar where Sarah delighted in the Focaccia Signature Salad, with its light, tangy, dressing; the subtlety of the fig, melon, and feta combination; the beet salad–I’m not a beet fan but I loved the tiny magenta cubes that perfectly complemented the other lightly dressed elements–the gently spiced prawn and potato salad; and of course the insalata caprese con pomodoro e mozzarella with the creamiest cheese this side of burrata. Chef Mauro’s arancini–fried risotto nuggets with a delicate pomodoro dipping sauce–scored high for me. Chef Mauro’s passion is that the beauty of the food speaks for itself in its taste and simplicity. The salads are a testament to that philosophy.
We both found the bread station to be a highlight of il Pranzo, with so many enticing styles and flavors, from a soft and chewy dark brown loaf, through exquisitely toothy rolls and several tantalizing focaccia–of course–to a wonderfully crispy pretzel. The bread station truly embodied a variety of artisan loaves. Sarah loved the perfect little circle of the pretzel. The chef shared how it goes through two processes in baking: once with steam, followed by a hot oven. The crust was an exquiste crunch with a perfect chew on the inside. Each of the breads had a unique appeal and showed once again Chef Mauro’s attention to detail. Seconds, please! At this point, I accepted the gracious offer of a glass of Valpolicella, and its deep ruby color, the aromas of berries and even a hint of chocolate, its velvety mouthfeel, followed by its robust flavor added another dimension of delight to il pranzo. I do miss good wine . . .
In the typical Italian meal, the primi piatti (first course dishes) includes pasta and risotto, but here we slipped off track–temporarily–and went right to what technically would be the secondi piatti, or main course. The dishes here featured an array of chicken preparations–loved the rolled chicken in mushroom sauce–seared beef, and a lightly fried sea bass, but the true gem was the per ordinare grill with a selection of fresh vegetables, peppers, and even pineapple, plus finely sliced beef, chicken, and prawns.
The capo partita (station chef) lightly grilled our orders and our server quickly brought them to us, still sizzling and so aromatic. Who knew a grilled pineapple slice could be so enticing, with the caramelized surface adding a crisp and complementary match for the special sweetness of the fruit. The chicken, beef, and prawns were lightly done, still juicy and with just the right smokiness of the grill. Sarah decided to put the wood fired pizza ovens to work so she ordered a simple pepperoni pie that reminded us what pizza is all about: thin, crispy crust, a light hint of sauce, just enough cheese, and balanced with the delicately thin pepperoni. Oh my, more seconds, please!
With apologies to Chef Mauro for our piatti sequencing error, we then headed for the pasta station with its enticing rainbow of fresh pasta strung over a frame in the sunlight. When Chef mentioned they also prepare risotto to order, I told him that the one dish I was proud that I could make reasonably well at home was risotto, so I would be closely judging his capo partita’s ability to match my own skill in handling the great attention and finesse needed. He laughed and told me not to worry. While we waited, Sarah and I did a quick scouting trip around the dessert station and knew we had a grand finale ahead.
As we returned to the risotto pot, Chef Mauro tasted the capo’s work, shook his head slightly, and told us he would bring it to us. He stirred and tasted again, a question on his brow, as we turned away. A few minutes later he brought the flat dish of risotto al funghi and placed it before me with a flourish. As expected from an excellent chef, the finish on the risotto had the sheen of satin, and when I forked out a first bite, the creamy risotto maintained the indentation. Perfect so far, Chef Mauro. On first bite, the tooth was nicely al dente. Then my palate registered the flavors: the silky tang of the Parmegiano, the earthy darkness of the mushrooms, and then, a stunning richness I’d never tasted in risotto. Chef grinned and won the day: “I added a little truffle oil.” Well played, Chef Mauro!
Sarah’s favorite was the vegetable lasgna. She raved about the béchamel sauce that was so light, yet so rich and made the non-heavy lasgna dish one to look forward to again (in Sarah’s words “I could crave this!!”) She heaped more praises and Chef Mauro told her that if any dish was not to his idea of perfection, they either started over or did not serve it. Thus, perfection was certainly the taste of the day!
At last, we were ready for the opulent dessert station. (Sarah couldn’t resist and had sampled a coffee mousse on our initial tour of the stations . . . okay, I had a bite, too and it was devilishly scrumptious.) How does one navigate what must certainly be an embarrassment of riches? How choose? That’s right, just take one of everything. While the dark chocolate truffles and macarons and the creme brulee and the fruit tarts were all stunning in their own way, it was the tiramisu that stole the show. Much darker with chocolate and espresso, and maybe a bit more of the usual Kahlua or other liqueur, Chef Mauro’s tiramisu was far richer and moist, almost mousse-like, than any we had ever tasted. A fitting finale for il pranzo perfetto!
Our overall take away from Focaccia’s il Grande Pranzo, was that we had been foolish for not enjoying it sooner! But, more importantly, Sarah and I now have one of those special places that we can recommend to everyone looking not just for excellent food–in this case, authentic Italian cuisine, offered by a team led by a world renowned chef–but also for an experience of conviviality where Chef Mauro makes the rounds among all the tables, stirring conversation and laughter. Where individuals, couples, and families from around the world (the restaurant was comfortably full in mid-afternoon on Saturday) can share connection and camaraderie through excellent food, lovingly and lightly prepared–no overwhelming garlic or oregano here–and an air of genuine welcome. And we didn’t even mention the prosciutto and salami and all the cheeses. Sarah asked Chef Mauro where we could find such wonderful items and he replied, of course, many places . . . in Italy! Don’t miss this Pranzo!
ABOUT IL GRANDE PRANZO
Il Grande Pranzo is a unique, ongoing Saturday brunch at The Hyatt Regency’s Focaccia restaurant with timings from 11am to 4pm every Saturday. The price for the brunch is Rs 1,550++ per person. Focaccia is of course open for ala carte dining all week and on the weekends.
If you want to be notified when events like this are happening at the Hyatt Regency Chennai, follow their Facebook page. All news and announcements about their upcoming food festivals and special events are posted there.
HYATT REGENCY CHENNAI
365 Anna Salai, Teynampet, Chennai, Tamil Nadu 600018, India
Tel: +91 44 61001234
Mob: +91 9176633310