Narise Kamber reviews… La Fiamma
The first feeling that I got when I entered was rustic warmth, which was present all throughout the restaurant. Before you enter, you are welcomed by a large wrought iron door that opens into a cozy yet elegant eating area divided by giant columns. I loved the symmetry of the dark multi branched chandeliers contrasting with the bright blue jars on the right wall, and the white marble table tops versus the blue and brown striped chairs. The setting is both comfortable and quiet where you can still see the other diners yet maintain your privacy. The kind and well-informed restaurant manager, Lorenzo Sabella, welcomed me.
Sabella comes from Bergamo in Italy, which is located 40 km away from Milan. He was originally a chef and has worked in many cities around the world such as Monte Carlo, Miami, San Francisco, London and Kuwait. He has such a passion for what he does and is very dedicated to every element in the restaurant from the staff to the food.
Sabella has devised a classic menu so it includes items that are popular with the general public and items that are typically regional. Food varies tremendously in Italy from one region to another and it is not all Bolognese and pizza margarita as some people might think.
So instead of saying Italian cuisine, it’s better to replace it with Sicilian, Milanese or Venetian cuisine, as each region takes pride in the variety of dishes it has. This is a statement that Sabella vehemently believes in.
Before the starters we had a delicious dip, or as they say in Italy bagnato, which literally means wet. This dip is made of sundried tomatoes that were ground with extra virgin olive oil, pine nuts and Parmesan cheese. I ate this dip with thin slices of freshly made focaccia made in their pizza oven. It was warm, crispy and it came in two flavors (rosemary and cheese)
As we were savoring this beautiful combination and discussing different kinds of bread in Italy, Sabella told me a story about his favorite breakfast as a child in Bergamo. He nostalgically talked about growing up in the kitchen with his mother and grandmother and how the latter would make him pane condito (seasoned bread) for breakfast.
She would take focaccia bread, warm it up, then sprinkle some olive oil on top and sugar. I thought this was a great combination and it suddenly reminded me of my own late grandmother who used to give us an afternoon treat of Bahraini bread (khoboz) fried with oil and sprinkled with sugar! Who would have thought that there are culinary similarities between Bahrain and Italy? Or we might say that the language of love -albeit culinary love- is universal.
For starters I chose tartare di fileto, sedano e agrumi di sicila, which is a beef tenderloin tartare with fresh celery and Sicilian citrus. I loved the addition of capers to this tartare that greatly complemented the lemon and celery. We also had the burrata Pugliese (from the region of Puglia) served with sundried tomatoes and rocket salad. For the main dish I noticed on the menu a whole list of fresh pasta so I ordered a popular dish from the menu, which is the cappelletti al porcini con spugnole e tartufo estivo.
Cappellitti means ‘little hats’ because of the rounded shape of the small puffed pasta. It is stuffed with cep mushrooms and topped with morel sauce and black truffles. This dish was simply excellent. The taste, the presentation and mainly the freshness of the pasta itself left me speechless.
The past year I traveled to Italy a lot due to work commitments (specifically Milan) and needless to say that after a long day, the first thing I looked forward to was having any pasta from any restaurant in Milan since they all do exceptional fresh pasta. And when my work there was complete, I worried that my access to well-made pasta is over.Well worry no more, the chefs at La Fiamma will provide you with freshly made pasta similar to the ones served in Italy.
The second pasta dish we tried was the tonarelli al astice, which is a tonnarelli pasta with Canadian lobster, garlic, bisque and cherry tomatoes. Tonnarelli is a variety of egg pasta typical of the region of Lazio similar to spaghetti alla chittarra. The lobster was cooked just right and the bisque infused sauce lent the right headiness needed for this pasta – an excellent combination.
Sabella insisted that we try the lasagna as he passionately insisted that the authentic Italian version is dramatically different than that we are normally used to.
My verdict on that one is that I agree. Never have I ever tasted lasagna so simple like the one at La Fiamma. This lasagna had multiple thin layers of pasta sheets with a simple quantity of light tomato, Bolognese sauce and mozzarella cheese.
Another main course that we ordered was a non-pasta dish. It was the fileto di manzo al funghi porcini e pepe rosa which is the beef tenderloin with porcini mushroom sauce and pink peppercorn. Oh that dish! If you had to order only two things from the La Fiamma menu then I urge you to go for the cappeletti pasta and this fileto di manzo.
The artistic presentation, the freshness of the meat, the delicacy of the sauce, simple perfection! I learnt another expression from Sabella that night and it is scarpetta. Scarpetta is an Italian phrase close to the heart of everyone who has enjoyed a delicious plate of pasta with sauce. It literally means ‘make the little shoe’ and it refers to the small piece of bread used top mop up the last of the sauce on your plate. When we finished eating the main courses, I saw Sabella take some bread and dip it in the remainder of the pasta sauce from the lobster tonnarelli. Again this is another moment when I was transformed to the age of nine years old to the house of my other grandmother, where after having the typical Bahraini breakfast of egg and tomato, my grandma and aunts would take out new slices of Bahraini khoboz from under the bread towel (the towel was supposed to keep the bread from drying up) and then we would all break the bread into small pieces and slide it on to the plate to eat the remaining concoction that came out of the spicy tangy egg tomato. So it looks like we have here our own Bahraini ‘scarpetta’ .
And the best way to end a great meal is having La Fiamma’s fabulous tiramisu. The tiramisu I had in La fiamma was as good as the ones in Milan. The luscious mascarpone cream topping, the espresso soaked savoiardi biscuits and topped with rich cocoa powder was heavenly and the portion is so generous that it can be shared by two. We also had the Meringa con gelato alla vaniglia e frutti di bosco, which is a delicious vanilla ice cream wrapped in a crunchy meringue case and with a side of mixed berries. I have a habit of always eating dessert with a small cup of espresso. But this is the wrong way according to the Italians who take pride in all their coffee rituals. So my espresso came after the dessert and not with it like we Bahrainis do.
Timings: Mon-Wed 7pm -11 pm
Thu-Sat 12.30 -3pm, 7pm-11pm
Friday: lunch time is brunch
La Fiamma Sofitel Bahrain Zallaq
Tel: 17 63 63 63
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