We're in the mood for kebabs. A friend has given up ‘carbs.' You're probably familiar with the trend. Everybody seems to be doing it these days. She swears it's the fastest way to get into her little black dress in time for New Year's Eve. However this is the same person who orders Skinny Lattes with artificial sweetener, and then teams them with big buttery chocolate chip muffins. The last time we were on holiday together, she ate muesli for breakfast, chasing it down with Caipiroskas, chock full of vodka and sugar, for dessert. Apparently ‘holiday calories' burn faster. Go figure! If she's cooking anything, whether it's scrambled eggs or chicken curry, I've learnt to stand beside her in the kitchen brandishing a rolling pin (my only effective kitchen intimidation tactic) while keeping a sharp eye on the pan because the moment I look away she throws in fistfuls of butter and cheese.
So, as you can imagine, I don't take her diets too seriously. Nevertheless, a foodie friend has offered to show us his favourite ‘hole in the wall' kebab joint, so we decide on a ‘carb-free' dinner. It turns out to be an anonymous little room on Greams Road, right beside Galloping Gooseberry (GG). I realise I've passed it a dozen times at least, since it's set practically inside the GG parking, but never really checked it out because it looked so grungy. Up close, it's actually quite organised — the cooks even wear plastic gloves. Nevertheless, this is not for the fainthearted. The rather rough all-male clientele seems suitably amused by Skinny Latte's short skirt and high heels. (She claims it's de rigueur to ‘dress for dinner'.) We eat spicy, juicy, steaming sheek kebabs wrapped in delicate rotis while sitting on a dusty step, after carefully inspecting it for creepy crawlies. There's also hefty chicken murtabak, and omelette rolls.
Later in the week, we drop by the Hyatt Regency to try their newly opened restaurant Focaccia. Chef Massimiliano Pauletto's unabashedly charming, and Skinny Latte dissolves into delighted giggles every time he comes up to our table. As we start on a plate of classic bruschetta, topped by sweet tomatoes laced with fruity olive oil, Chef “Massi” talks of how he's going to stand out in a sea of Italian restaurants. Despite his mafia-style pronouncements, Massi's greatest advantage over the competition is his distinctive style, rooted in an Italian heritage and developed by years of hard work in meticulous restaurant kitchens. He started his career in Milan, under the tutelage of three Michelin-starred Chef Gualtiero Marchesi. Over here he developed an appreciation of modern Italian cooking: food that's edgier, healthier and lighter. Or as Massi simply puts it, “funkier”. A stint in Paris introduced him to the elegance of French technique and plating. Then came London and South-East Asia. “Italian food should be casual,” he says, as we tear into our thin crust pizzas, explaining the relaxed Focaccia vibe, where the chef wanders about chatting with diners and the interactive open kitchen clatters and clangs with activity. His food's a combination of flavours from Southern Italy: Campania, Puglia, Calabria, Sicily. The pizza, disappointingly, lacks character. Fortunately it's followed by a wickedly creamy mushroom risotto, and pasta Puttanesca, a cleverly balanced combination of ripe tomatoes, garlic, olives and anchovies. The highlight of the meal, however, is the carpaccio, as delicate as Venetian lace, with a gleaming balsamic glaze and grainy golden mustard.
Dessert is served ‘home-style.' Light, fluffy tiramisu, with a backbone of powerfully aromatic espresso, ladled out from a big communal bowl. Skinny Latte is delighted. Since she's decided tiramisu is not a carb, she figures it works with her diet. Besides, Chef Massi's just winked at her from behind the kitchen counter. “The best thing about this restaurant is the chef,” she squeals, winking back gleefully. I just roll my eyes and continue to eat dessert.
Foccacia is at the Hyatt Regency. A meal for two costs about Rs. 1,800. Call 6100 1234 for reservations.