Prego, the 56-cover fine dining Italian restaurant at the Taj Coromandel hotel, has literally turned on its head – morphing into an informal joint, anchored by a new and young Italian chef with his brand new menu.

From being a very formal outlet with a dress code and with children barred, Prego (welcome in Italian) is now more down-to-earth and welcomes the little ones with an open heart.

The restaurant is now lively with children coming in and the tables are more sexy as there is no white cloth covering them.

While I mulled this over, 26-year-old Luca D’Amora, the new Italian chef, came over to the table and presented the new menu.

With around 10 years’ experience in commercial kitchens overseas, D’Amora is also adept in whipping up Mexican, Spanish and French dishes.

Queried about the philosophy behind the new menu D’Amora told IANS: "It is fresh and modern. The plating is simple and the dishes are more flavourful. The accent is on using fresh vegetables and making the sauces and other items rather than relying on readymade ones."

"I prefer a small but a good menu card. The fish used here are the day’s catch from the Bay of Bengal. The pasta is made afresh," he said serving the hot and tasty potato beignets/fritter, goat cheese cream, tomato coulis and caramelised cherry tomato.

However, to arrive at the new menu with an expected life span of around six/eight months was not easy as D’Amora had to test around 300 dishes to finalise the offerings.

Meanwhile, other tasty appetisers – seared scallops, truffle and parmesan cream, EVOO soy ginger glazed chicken mille feuille, garlic cream and parma ham, fresh mozzarella and confit tomato – arrived at the table and soon vanished from the plates.

It was time for the soup, and D’Amora offered truffle scented provolone/cheese soup which was gentle. One can also add a good amount of pepper and dip crispy bread in the soup before taking a bite.

Non-vegans can dive into asparagus and spinach soup with bronzed scallops.

Following next were the pastas – the attractive goat cheese and spinach ravioli pasta, the hand-rolled purple potato with asparagus sauce and the tagliolini seafood and squid ink sauce.

It may take two pieces for one to get accustomed to the taste of goat cheese but the purple potato and taglioline seafood went down easily.

On the pricing front, officials said that the net outgo under the new menu will be lower for a guest and with two types of portions – small and large – one can taste a greater number of dishes.

"In wines – white and red – we have a large number of varieties. Guests need not buy a full bottle but can have even half-a-glass and can pair it with the food," Alok Anand, executive chef at Taj Coromandel, told IANS, offering the crispy ortolana and feta cheese pizza.

"Our focus is on increasing footfalls to the restaurant by offering an authentic experience," Anand added.

D’Amora’s disappointment was visible when one said "finito" Italian for finished.

To cheer him up and ready for the main course, it was time for Jasmine tea and a little wait, which was worth it, as the pan seared fish topped with powdered pista tasted great.

So was the square shaped zucchini and tomato timbale balsamic reduction.

Chicken and cheese lovers can go for mozzarella chicken with Sicilian lemon and caper sauce.

One can also try out braised lamb shank, celeriac cream, caramelised shallots; pork belly cooked for eight hours; balsamic figs and apricot glaze; and Zucchini and tomato timbale (tomato sauce).

To end the elaborate dinner in a colourful way, go for The Color (dark and white chocolate, citrus berries and sponge).

Extending the experience of home-style dining, guests are invited to Casa D’Amora, the chef’s home where he would design and serve Italian family style dining – a four course tasting menu per person-based on the guest’s preference – which is outside the menu.

FAQs

* Average spend per person without liquor: around Rs.2,000.

* Casa D’Amora costs between Rs.1,500 and Rs.3,500.