I’ve had many wonderful meals at Prego – the fun dining Italian restaurant at The Westin Mumbai Garden City, but I knew this one was going to be different even before I walked in. Reason? Prego’s all new Chef de Cuisine – Chef Antonello Cancedda, known for the mastery he exudes over his craft. May that be creating the most exquisite Italian dishes, highlighting the recipes from his hometown in Genoa, or his ability to serenade the diners with his guitar. No wonder why he’s called ‘The Singing Chef’.
‘Life is incomplete without good food, good music, and good wine. And every good meal should have all three key ingredients’, chef exclaims. And it is this experience he tries to recreate every single time. I sat down with a glass of Riesling, to chat with an extremely affable Chef Antonello, and dined on an exquisite meal that was going to last four hours long.
The new dishes on Prego’s menu are reflective of Chef’s signature cooking style – simple, rustic and letting the produce stand out. Which is how most Italian cooking should be, Chef says. He is a purist in my opinion, one who believes the simpler the recipe the stronger your dish. Chef scoffs when I ask him about the ‘desification‘ of classic dishes to suit the Indian palate. Which may explain why there were no chilli flakes or oregano on my table as I dined.
We start off our meal with the Burrata Trio – the cheese native to southern Italy was characterized by it’s outer hard, mozzarella-esque casing and creamy within. This came paired with a simple arugula salad and some ‘gnocco fritto’ or fried pizza dough. Next up a simple appetizer of parma ham, cheese and a scooped out melon ball. Three ingredients that are classically paired together and reflects the sort of Italian cooking that Chef was taking to me about earlier – fresh, rustic and hearty.
While I slurped on the deliciously comforting Lobster Bisque that was just brought out, Chef decides to take a break from the kitchen to strum his guitar. He breaks into a rendition of the popular Hindi song, ‘Paani Da Rang’, much to the amusement of diners around us. But Chef is a maestro both behind the kitchen counter and behind the guitar. ‘I’ve taken the liberty of setting up a plate with small portions of the mains, so you can taste more of the menu’, he says. In true Italian hospitality Chef ensures and oversees that we eat our guts out.
The star of my meal was the Lasagne Portofino – a basil pesto and green beans based lasagna, a recipe that comes from the small town of Portofino. A vegetarian Lasagna without tomatoes and mince is hard to imagine, but this one stood out for all the right reasons. The Salmone – a pan seared salmon dish, on a bed of spinach, and topped with olive pesto – is what you should order if you’re looking to eat clean, and you’re looking to eat right. The Roasted Lamb Rack was full of flavor but not cooked to medium rare, which is how I like eating my lamb. Chef insists we try another pesto based dish – he enjoys cooking with the humble pesto. This time we dig into short strands of hand twisted pasta with pesto and beans named ‘Trofiette’.
‘There’s always room for Tiramisu. Tiramisu is best had scooped out of large bowls, not in small pieces like this’, Chef A exclaims! I’d happily eat a large bowl of the Tiramisu they served me for dessert that afternoon. Perfectly light and airy, perfect mascarpone to ladyfinger biscuit ratio – this one was a hit! The Cannoli – a traditional Sicilian dessert made of rolled pastry stuffed with sweetened ricotta cheese – fell flat in comparison. (The Cannoli strongly reminded me of the Cream Rolls we get in old school bakeries. Little did I know, I was spending half my childhood gobbling up desi Cannolis.) The Cassata is an indulgent chocolate cake- ice cream combination that you need to gobble down fast lest it turn into a runny mess on your plate. The berry compote connecting all three desserts was a star, and I’d like some more of that please!
I left Prego with belly full of good food, and a heart filled with warm memories. As I look back, Chef Antonello’s on his guitar again crooning the ‘Happy Birthday’ song to a table that was celebrating. I’m sure that lady won’t be forgetting this birthday for a long time to come.
(The author was invited to dine at Prego. The views are unbiased and entirely her own.)