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Fun food at Giorgio

Giorgio, the Italian restaurant that opens today, attempts to push the frontiers of food fashion

IT DOESN'T matter if you pronounce it "JoJo" or George-Oh, one thing is certain the Italians are here in a big way!

Pasta is more popular today for the "let's eat out" crowd than puliyodorai and certainly pizzas are more sexy than oothapams, even if they may be clogging up our arteries faster than you can say, cholesterol. That's the way the world has always been, say the owners of Besant Nagar's newest fantasy food destination - Giorgio - that's been started by Reshma Patel and Nanda Kumar, just off the Elliot's Beach front, at the Velankanni Church end. Their menu points in the direction of Marco Polo, the first great traveller, he who dined at the table of great Mongol Khans and took back to his home town recipes he had discovered in China for ice-cream and who knows, perhaps even the first pasta machine, or at least a doodle for noodles.

Patel and Kumar have been pushing the frontiers of Chennai's food fashion for some time now. They were the duo that introduced the concept of delivering pizzas and pastas on your doorstep when they started "Chef Express" a good nine years ago, at a time when the packaging industry was still figuring a way to create those dinky cardboard boxes that keep your pizzas hot but not soggy. Now when there are so many young men buzzing around like multi-coloured bumble-bees with hot-cases built into the backs of their two-wheelers delivering freshly made pizzas around town, it seems difficult to imagine the dark ages when such features were not part of our life-style.

With Giorgio the pair seem to have taken the Marco Polo option and travelled to different parts of the globe to come up with a menu that they describe as "A New World Cuisine." It looks like they travelled in what the Beatles might say is an "Orange Submarine" since they have painted the walls of an old Besant Nagar style house with a series of small rooms, a brilliant orange, hung track lights from the ceiling and transformed one wall with a giant painting taken from "Moulin Rouge" the movie, so that for one dizzy moment you feel you have stepped into Montmartre, in Paris. Another wall has a large DVD screen that continuously unspools a series of music videos. These are part of Nanda Kumar's collection that he has built up over the last couple of years, when he travelled to different corners of the world in real life, maybe not in an orange submarine exactly, but certainly with the zest of the born explorer, tasting different foods, notching up different experiences and coming back to base, at Chennai, where he has a satellite communications business that he runs when he is not also training recruits for the merchant navy. Patel is the one who does the serious stirring and experimenting with the recipes that Kumar has eaten or would like to introduce to their Chennai audience.

"I don't think we are any different from many of the people who now live in Chennai," explains Nanda Kumar. "Most people have travelled abroad today and they are much more willing to try a whole range of new cuisines than they might have done earlier. You don't have to explain what pasta is to anyone today, so keeping some of these things in mind we have created a menu that we believe is truly international."

He's also installed a stand-alone computer screen with an Internet connection, so that the Marco Polos of today will be able to log on faster to their friends and family back home. There's also a smaller room towards one side of the main hall, where people who want to sit quietly may choose to do so.

Indeed the main feature of "Giorgio" seems to be multiple choices. Outside for instance, there is an open grill and tandoori style counter, where they provide either takeaways of the old Chef Express variety of pizzas, including square pizzas, hamburgers and grilled chicken and so forth, which let it be said are their main strength even now. Inside, there's an elaborate menu that tickles the mind more than the palate. There are fizzy soda pops that hark back to the old Archie and Veronica days. There are fun finger foods, such as broccoli deep fried and dipped in cheese sauce, fish fingers and mozzarella sticks, bruschetta and that all-time favourite finger chips. There are soups, which we did not try and combinations of pasta, along with items that have been influenced by Thai and Vietnamese style cooking. There's a Cuban sandwich that Nanda Kumar declares is his favourite and a whole range of sea foods served pre-plated on large platters. In between we get to taste the prawns that have been grilled in their shells, while the Cajun style fish, a salute to American culinary traditions, is also produced. Quite aside from the fishy items, there's an extensive menu for vegetarians and we just manage to dive into a massive offering of crepes, filled with mushrooms and blanketed with sauce. To keep the home fires burning, there are also a number of Indian items.

The desserts are simple, there are frozen yoghurt based ones and regular ice-creams, Marco Polo would have been pleased that his innovations have lasted so long and indeed returned to Asia, as "Italian Ice-cream".

While the starters are priced around Rs. 70, the main courses are in the Rs. 150 region, so at the end of the evening you could expect to pay anything from Rs. 350 to Rs. 400 a head.

Giorgio, which opens today, is located at T-29 Ground Floor, 7th Avenue Besant Nagar, ph: 52040202.


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