The Ottimo Odyssey (Part 2)

The tasting menu at Ottimo was an elaborate affair. In case you missed the first part, check it out here. Anyways, with the sorbet sorted and the palate cleansed, it’s time to move on.

The next dish in line was a risotto of porcini mushroom and pancetta. This was definitely the lowest point of the meal. Although the rice was cooked to the perfect al dente, the dish was overpoweringly salty, with nothing to balance out the saltiness. It became a bit too intense after the third spoon, and it was the only dish in the entire meal that I couldn’t finish.

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The bumpy start of the second half continued with the first dish from the selection of mains, a Chilean sea bass in a light broth or brodo with tomatoes and olives. It was a dish we were looking forward to, and were sorely disappointed to find that the broth was overseasoned. The saving grace of the dish was the fish itself, which was cooked to absolute perfection. The bread helped to undertone some of the salt in the broth, which on its own was way too salty.

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The next dish was a piece of salmon, cooked over mango wood in the oven, served with a celeriac puree and vegetables; asparagus, zuchhini and carrots. And finally, there was redemption; the skin was crisp, the fish was flaky, permeated by a subtle smoky note from the mango wood. The puree and veggies were simple and  perfectly complemented the fish. A minimalistic and elegant dish, this.

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Then came the highlight of the mains: a 72-hour sous vide pork belly, served with sauteed veggies, smashed potatoes a vanilla mash, and a rum and honey jus. The chef doesn’t usually serve the vanilla mash with the pork; it is meant to be served with the lamb chops and tenderloin on the menu. However, knowing that we would definitely not have enough room for red meat, we had requested the chef to incorporate the mash into one of the other dishes, and so he did.

If you’re skeptical about the use of vanilla in a savoury dish, remember that vanilla is just a spice. If sweet spices like cinnamon and cardamom can have savoury applications, why not vanilla? More importantly, much like spices toasted in a dry pan, a hot dish brings out the aroma of vanilla much more compared to a cold dessert. We realized this in the most amazing way possible, for our nostrils were hit by a full, intense aroma of vanilla the moment the warm jus touched the mash. Never before had the role of smell in eating made so much sense.

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And the pork was excellent. I’ve never had such perfectly cooked pork before; the skin was crisp, the meat was tender, and the fat coats your mouth in a warm embrace. The jus was uncomplicated and the veggies were prepared very simply, allowing the pork to shine. The smashed potatoes provided a delicious duality of a slightly crisp exterior and a buttery interior. Add to that the creamy, aromatic vanilla mash, and you’re in heaven.

While we were still recovering from the porcine euphoria, we were hit with dessert. There were four amazing desserts lined up for us, one of which will be discussed at length in an upcoming article. For now, let us look at the other three.

Tiramisu translates to “pick me up”, and seeing Ottimo’s version of it, it isn’t difficult to realise why. A coffee-lover’s dream dessert, it was spiked with kahlua and an unmistakable hit of espresso. It was topped with shards of coffee tuile whose deep brown colour and spiky jagged edges added a visual ying to the pale and rounded yang of the actual dessert.

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Although the tiramisu itself was delicious with a strong hit of coffee, the tuile was a bit too thick. It bent instead of snapping sharply, and it turned out to be a bit too heavy, masking the tiramisu instead of providing it a textural accent as it should. I had another tiramisu the next day and the tuile was perfect; providing the brittle snap to offset the luscious creaminess.

We finished our meal with a coffee gelato and a chocolate sorbet. While the gelato was delicious, the chocolate sorbet was mind-blowing. Anyone who has worked with chocolate is aware of its enmity with water. This sorbet is made by mixing chocolate and water in a pacojet, which micro-purees ingredients, thus blending particles of chocolate droplets of water in harmonious union.

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What makes a sorbet different from an ice cream or gelato is the absence of dairy, and it is this one change which makes all the difference, elevating it from a good dessert to an amazing one. In the absence of any milk or cream, all you’re left with is the pure, unadulterated flavour of good-quality chocolate.

 And the texture is gorgeous too; like eating a bar of 72 percent Belgian chocolate, but in ice-cream form. I could only imagine what some coffee or orange zest would’ve done to the dish. If the tiramisu was a coffee-lover’s dream, this was a chocoholic’s nirvana.

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We were too full to move after that meal, and what a meal it was. Although there were a few tiny bumps along the way, we were taken on a gastronomic journey like no other. What was even more impressive was the way the chef controlled the portions of his usual dishes to make sure we could have an unforgettable degustation experience, and unforgettable it was, indeed.

We’re not done yet, though. I have left out a couple of dishes in our journey so far, the dishes which in my opinion were the two best dishes on the menu. Although the Caesar salad and the pork belly were spectacular too, these were the two dishes that I loved the most, and the ones I’m looking forward to trying again on the next visit. They deserve separate articles of their own, which is precisely what we’ll do over the next two weeks. So do join me next week as we revisit the highest of highs of the Ottimo Odyssey.

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