SHONALI MUTHALALY

Italia At The Park Pod serves up dishes with flavours that lean towards subtlety

A bsolute was designed for the Perrier pack. With its Louis Ghost chairs from Philipe Starck, kitschy Silver Bar from Viya and Thomas Kellar-inspired crockery, it's a suitably-pretentious space, calculated to delight people ‘in the know.' However, the Perrier pack didn't exactly beat down the doors with their well-manicured hands. Unfortunately, Absolute's food didn't always reach the breathtaking heights of its prices. This week the space is being reopened in a more practical avatar, as Italia by The Park.

The Park seems to be becoming the city's food mafia, considering they've already taken over Madras Club's pool café and Latitude. To their credit, so far they have managed to create menus that allow every restaurant to retain a degree of individual character. Italia, which has branches in Delhi and Bangalore, is high-end Italian, focusing on showcasing exotic ingredients, innovative recipes and unabashed luxury.

We start with an assortment of crostini, each piled high with artful concoctions — a plump pesto-laced prawn, colourful zucchini dabbed with mint, juicy aubergines glossy with olive oil. At Italia, flavours lean towards subtlety, sometimes barely making their presence felt before languidly ebbing away. It's a refreshing change from the salt, chilly and spice tirade that we've have grown to expect from restaurant food. This delicate food style works well with the freshly made tagliatelle, lustrous with truffle butter, the flaky fish fillet (John Dory available for those of you who don't worry about food miles) served with creamed spinach and a dribble of balsamic sauce and the almost ridiculously cute pasta ‘pillows' stuffed with lamb. It can however get boring.

The Orechitte pasta, tossed with broccoli and barely-there garlic and chilly is like a boring person who just won't stop droning — on and on and on. On the other hand, some of the dishes resound with flavour, intelligently woven from a few good ingredients so there's not too much clamour. Take the parcels of addictively salty ham wound around pasta and set in a velvety puddle of hearty Emmenthal cheese. It's the Lady Gaga of food, delightful as long as it's in small portions.

There are also braised lamb shanks, but they were rather disappointing since the meat seemed rather exhausted. Perhaps it was the flight from New Zealand that did it in. Apparently travelling economy can be hell on your complexion. Soup's generally a waste of space, in my opinion. At Italia, however, I could happily dine on soup alone — if I had to choose just one item. My emerald green broccoli soup was deliciously creamy, with satisfyingly chunky pancetta for texture and a generous shard of provolone, just to make things more interesting.

The meal ends with an avalanche of desserts. Don't let the deceptively simple presentation fool you. They might work with just a handful of ingredients on each dish, but this is extremely rich food. So, if you intend to try dessert, go slow with the mains. We breeze through the panna cotta, speckled with organic vanilla, which whispers through its soothing coolness. The more complex hazelnut and ricotta tart, with its cleverly tiered textures pales in comparison. If you're looking for a sophisticated chocolate fix, try the pot of dark bitter-sweet chocolate stiffened with a backbone of Grand Mariner. Fortunately you don't have to be a bling-laden, Evian-quaffing socialite to dine here anymore.

A meal for two costs roughly Rs. 800. ‘Italia at The Park Pod' is at 23/13 Khader Nawaz Khan Road. It's open for both lunch and dinner, with different menus for each. Call 42955555 for reservations.

More In: METRO PLUS | FEATURES