While boarding my flight from Barcelona to Delhi a few days back, the familiar heartache crawled its way back to find me. My month-long adventures in Spain were ending; I already missed the gorgeous olive countryside, the long lunches, the longer siestas, the best sangrias in the world, and the cobbled streets of sleepy old towns that first made me fall in love with Europe. Admittedly, getting upgraded to business class on Turkish Airlines helped nurse the pain, but it wasn’t until I started chatting up my co-passenger on my second flight from Istanbul to Delhi, that I knew I was on my way to new adventures. Before you start getting ideas, this isn’t about that Bollywood story where girl meets boy and the rest is predictable!
The said co-passenger turned out to be Chef Felice, a Michelin Star chef from Italy, on his way to prepare a special Italian menu at The Oberoi in Delhi, in partnership with Turkish Airlines. Suddenly, I was not sulking about Spain any more; I was dreaming of my food haven. It was his first trip to India, and he had questions about everything; the people, the cost of living, the culture, the religion, and especially the food. In broken Italian, Spanish and English, I grilled him about Italian food, hoping he’d reveal his some cooking secrets; he promised to, but only after I gave his food a try. When we parted at the airport, I left with a lingering feeling that this was a sign to continue my search for the best Italian food in Delhi.
I tweeted about the chance meeting and @OberoiNewDelhi quickly picked it up. One thing led to another, and there I was, meeting Chef Felice again. This time, he was dressed in his spotless white chef attire, I was all set to be wined and dined, and we were both glad to see each other again (okay, atleast I was!).
I have to admit that Travertino turned out to be one of the best Italian restaurants I’ve tried in Delhi.
Ever since I went to Italy in the summer of 2011, Italian food hasn’t been the same for me. I still remember the first pesto bruschetta I had at a small cafe by the Italian Riviera; the way the bread melted on my tongue, bursting with the subtle flavor of pesto and sun dried tomatoes. I remember thinking, how could something so simple taste so good?
I’ve tried many restaurants across South Delhi in the 1.5 years I’ve lived here, yet nothing has made me go, “wow”. Before my first visit to Travertino, I was skeptical of its promise of “authentic” Italian cuisine with a “creative touch”. Many Italian restaurants in Delhi and elsewhere claim that, and then give you creamy pastas, hard bruschettas and Pizza Hut type pizzas in the name of Italian food. (Not that I don’t like Pizza Hut, but to call it authentic Italian is crossing the line).
Located next to a glass-encased wine cellar at The Oberoi, Travertino welcomes you with a calming vibe, soft music and smiling staff, checking the basics of a good dining experience (and contrary to what you may think, not very common in Delhi). The menu is small but handcrafted, and specializes in signature Italian pastas and desserts with a twist, that could make you salivate just with the chef’s description. An entire section is dedicated to Italian wine and cheeses, indeed imported from Italy; they say the best wines are those that make you talk, and hearing the conversation flow all around you is evidence that you’re in the right place.
Travertino has been offering Chef Felice’s signature white truffle menu for the last one week, as you probably know through my Facebook and Twitter feeds. I suggest you go grab some food, because you’re now joining me virtually on my lunch date; it could make you very hungry!
Chef Felice’s signature (vegetarian) Italian food:
Whetting my appetite with an Asparagus Mousse, a dainty presentation of asparagus paste, topped with aromatic spice and olive oil, courtesy the chef.
Complimentary bread basket, comprising multigrain bread, sun dried focaccia, baguettes, bread sticks, and flatbreads with tomato and basil, accompanied by olive oil and a drop of vinegar. I’ve only dreamt of having these melt-on-your-tongue breads each time I’ve had Italian food in Delhi before this.
First appetizer: “A little tomato!” comprising three creations that used tomato as their main ingredient, topped with white truffle mushrooms. (Left) Italy’s version of the gazpacho, strong and flavorful on the tongue. (Middle) A layered blend of sun dried tomatoes and parmesan cheese, both of which slowly melt in the mouth. (Right) Tomato stuffed with ricotta cheese, a pure delight for cheese lovers and my personal favorite among the three.
Second appetizer: Ricotta Cannelloni topped with white truffle, which paired well with the house wine. The crisp, savory exterior complemented the truffle and ricotta to create a burst of flavors on the tongue; I almost felt like I was in Italy.
Main course: Parmesan Praline with slices of green apple and a small salad. The melted parmesan oozed out of the cooked batter on the first cut, and created a messy, cheesy delight that I absolutely loved.
Dessert: Coffee ice cream with warm bitter chocolate, as delicious on a warm winter afternoon as you can imagine.
By the time dessert arrived, I was pinching myself to remember that this was not Italy, that I wasn’t going to walk out of here into the cobbled streets and find the town shutting shop for siesta. And that muchas gracias might not be the most apt greeting for the staff who had served us so patiently.
It’s not too often that we get to sit and talk to a Michelin Star Chef visiting India all the way from Italy, so on Facebook and Twitter, I asked if you had any burning questions for Chef Felice. Your questions poured in and Chef Felice gave answers that surprised me a little, especially questions about preparing some of the best Italian food I’ve had in Delhi. But that’s a revelation for another post, so stay tuned!
PS: Today, December 1st, is the last day to sample Chef Felice’s special menu at The Oberoi, so if you’re in Delhi and craving Italian food, you know where to go!
What’s the best Italian restaurant you’ve tried in Delhi?
Luckily for me, my long lunches didn’t end after Spain. I was hosted at Travertino by Oberoi Hotels & Resorts, and I can’t thank them enough for giving me a taste of Italy in Delhi.