<Review & Photography by: Sailesh Ghelani>
Getting into food reviews is new for me and for Minority-Review but we plan on taking this voyage of culinary discovery with you in mind. The things you look for and the experience you crave for your fashionable night out on the town.
Some may scoff at the prospect of eating out at a ‘vegetarian eatery’ thinking it’s not much ‘fun’! But when we got the chance to partake of a special tasting at Spesso – even before the restaurant opened – we jumped at the opportunity with gleeful palates and open minds. Or should it be open palates and gleeful minds!
The wonderful thing about the people behind Spesso – the same chaps who are responsible for popular veg hangouts like Status, Samrat and Relish – is that they are eager to forge new frontiers with their niche. Who says you don’t have variety with vegetarian cuisine? From our exceedingly packed bellies we can assure you there is no limit to the boundless wonders that a kitchen stocked only with fruit & veg, dairy products, flour and good cooks can prepare.
Spesso has a medley of dishes picked up from the Mediterranean region and a few other places here and there as well. You’ll find an eclectic mix including classics like tajine, tapas, caponata, fondue, fresh baked breads and much more.
The ambience is warm and has an elegant charm about it. Since the service was for ‘special guests’ like us we can’t really judge that particular checkbox until we dine there on a regular night when the eatery opens officially for business.
So let’s jump right in shall we:
Most restaurants serve you the standard breadbasket and butter. Some take their time to bring it to your table. Our bread – freshly baked at the restaurant – came promptly with three different types of butter (a bit hard from the fridge though, so they need to see about that): a basil pesto butter that was interesting, a herbed butter and a sundried tomato butter that I particularly fancied considering my liking for the dried fruit. The bread was fluffy and fresh.
My lovely dining companion and I followed that with some soup. The Zuppa Di Succa Al Mascaron – roasted red pumpkin soup with radicchio leaves and Parmesan shavings – was so different and indulgent I wanted more. But I knew I had to pace myself.
And the Minestrone Alla Genovese for my companion was of perfect consistency, with just the right amount of assorted vegetables. The flavours were distinct and far from the generic tomato-y base. The pesto croutons, probably made from their in-house bread, added a good finishing touch.
The first drink I tried was an Italian Soda in Green Apple with a dollop of whipped cream atop it. Sort of like an ice cream soda. The glass was a bit cracked and I had to send it back though. Hope they sort that out since it won’t look too good on opening night. My companion had the Bellini mocktail in Peach & Apple, which was a great refresher from the humidity outside. The management thought we should try their Mixed Berry Smoothie that was so thick and flavourful I just knew I wouldn’t finish it. My companion skillfully stole the drink from me and proceeded to devour it over the course of the meal, mmm-ing and smacking her lips ever so often.
Shots followed. No not gunshots but Mexican shots and I don’t mean Tequila. 7 Layered Mexican shots, which is the Chef’s special and certainly won over our taste buds. Each layer of delight mixed together to form a perfect whole. Something I recall seeing a contestant on MasterChef Australia prepare once; ah that show has done wonders in terms of inspiration and innovation in the food world, hasn’t it.
A Grilled Cheese Peri Peri was proffered. I’m a paneer (cottage cheese) fan being spoilt with Punjab Sind Paneer right across the road from me here in Mumbai. It seemed a tad like an Indian dish though but apparently they use some African spice in it. It was still lovely on the lips.
The Mediterranean Crispy Rolls arrived but thin and slender as they were they understandably incorporated just a sliver of filling. Crispy on the outside but not quite there in terms of content. Fatten it up then, Spesso!
Both the Crispy Rolls and the fancily named Spiedini Alla Toscana (minced veggies skewered and fried) were a bit like snacks served at a Gujarati wedding. Both seemed a bit out of place here. Maybe presentation needs to be altered.
My god, did we really eat that much? Oh there’s more… and we’re still just on appetizers!
A Mezze Platter arrives but it’s actually two platters: one hot and one cold.
The hot platter had a mini falafel, a cheese tart, something made of soy and something that looked like a samosa filled with a bit of spinach.
The cold platter consisted of olive hummus, baba ganoush, tabouleh and fattoush.
The winner was clearly the cold platter but one would have liked there to be bigger bowls since some of the contents kept falling out. I particularly liked the olive hummus and tabouleh but I think they need to take a look at that Greek yoghurt. A tad too sweet perhaps.
The hot platter should probably be scrapped or totally revised. But the Lavash that accompanied it must be kept on since it was irresistibly flaky and yum.
And my personal favourite of the evening was the Crumbed Mushroom Caps: Seven Greek-styled golden fried balls of heaven stuffed with a bed of warm cheese and a plump mushroom lazing upon it. Let me pause to fondly reminisce…
Onwards then to the salad. A Big Fat Greek one. Lots of Greek influences here I notice. Must bring my Greek friend here, though she’d probably say she could do it better. She still owes me that home-cooked Greek dinner. The salad was beautifully presented (have a look at the picture), lightly dressed and topped with the crunchiest sprouts of alfa-alfa. We’ve had a better Greek at our favourite Spaghetti Kitchen, but this one scores on not dousing the vegetation with heaps of dressing that usually takes away the ‘healthy’ quotient from the equation. The few bits of pickled cucumber in the mix gave it that bit of punch and we’d like some more punch please!
We’re just on salad and we may be full already. But no, Spesso’s owner wants us to keep trying and even repeat something if we like. Our Quattro Stagioni Pizza wafts in. Four individual toppings on each thin slice representing four seasons: cottage cheese, broccoli, American corn and bell peppers. The broccoli was a standout for me and I’d have had a whole pizza with that on top. Hard to believe but true. The bell peppers were too finely julienned so you couldn’t get that hit of taste from them unfortunately. Oh and an option for a crispier base would be great.
Pasta follows pizza and this one is Puttanesca with Fusilli. We did not like. Was it that we had had too much? Well we ate more after this so it’s unlikely. The pasta was a bit too al dente (‘to the teeth’) for our taste. In Italian cooking it means that the pasta is made to be firm but not hard. I don’t know if we’re not used to this as an Indian audience or if Spesso just got it a bit undercooked but coupled with the salty nature of the sauce it was just a forkful for us to taste and no more.
The next dish from North Africa gets its name from the earthenware pot in which it is cooked: the tajine. Obviously being vegetarian in nature, it doesn’t taste quite like the non-vegetarian version but it’s still a good effort. Flavourful and spicy, we chose the more authentic version with couscous, though most Indian customers would probably go for the rice version. Don’t be boring!
I never realised that I could have so many options and varieties with vegetarian food. And kudos to Spesso for experimenting and adapting these traditional dishes to cater to their very loyal – most of their customers will be patrons from Samrat, Status and Relish – clientele.
Dessert anyone? Yes, two please.
The first is the Treat of the Day. Something they had just created that very morning to add to the menu. Lucky us. Tentatively called the Mixed Berry Lasagna (the meat connotation in the name doesn’t quite gel, I think they should change it) this blue concoction is served marvellously on a plate with a dollop of ice cream on the side. Beneath the blue (what’s that, you ask) milk reduction topping is a layer of sponge, mixed berry jam and cream. Alright, so the blue is actually blue curacao mixed in. Peculiar flavour that may be an acquired taste but my companion absolutely adored it. I do think they should offer a non-blue version though!
The second treat was the Tartfuro Di Pizzo, a gelato from Calabria. This ball of layered milk, dark and white chocolate ice cream set in the middle of a crop circle of cocoa garnished with wholesome hazelnuts was delectable. A word to Spesso though, the icy frost coating it took away from the presentation. It shouldn’t look like it was pulled out from a Kwality’s ice cream freezer.
As a non-vegetarian who appreciates good veg food, I can indeed recommend Spesso to all foodies. Sure they need to get some things right, which is why we were there and we appreciate their willingness to get the feedback and tweak the menu and food to give you, our dear readers, an even better dining experience to take back home with you.
Spesso is an Italian word that means frequently, often, regularly and is their way of saying “Come again” or if they’re optimists “You will come again!” The four symbols in the logo represent (from top L-R): Olive Oil, Star Anise, Basil and Pasta.
Ground Floor, Regent Chambers, Next to Status Restaurant
Jamnalal Bajaj Rd, Nariman Point,
Tel: 022 40318750
OPENS FOR BUSINESS ON AUGUST 26TH, 2013