Eating at a chef-centric restaurant is always a pleasurable experience, especially when the chef is omnipresent. You can look forward to tasting dishes that have the chef’s unique stamp on them. Secondly, the chef is likely to pay attention to what you are actually enjoying and what you are pushing away from your plate and tweak the upcoming courses accordingly. And if the chef is happy to talk about the food at length, that’s an added bonus.
Levo scored on all three counts. Chef Rajeev Arora asked our preferences and then served those of his signature dishes that would accommodate our likes. He kept checking with us about the food, in between courses. And, he is a treasure trove of culinary information, courtesy his two-decade experience as a chef and his gastronomic experiences across various continents; and is happy to chat away about how he personalized every dish he presented us.
EUROPEAN SOUL FOOD
The restaurant has 180 covers, which includes an expansive al fresco area, a private dining room with its separate entrance and outdoor area, as well as a spacious banquet hall. The sense of spaciousness can work for, or against, the restaurant; even if 10 tables are occupied, the establishment feels empty – which, depending on your preference, might work for you or not.
The food at Levo is inspired by European cuisine though Chef Rajeev has taken care to choose only those dishes that will complement the Indian palate. Midway during the meal, my dinner companion remarked that it is usually prudent to eat an apple before visiting a restaurant serving European food. However, this does not apply to Levo.
The menu is extensive with various vegetarian options. The thoughtfulness of the menu is evident from the fact that certain dishes are marked as healthy options, while others have a symbol showing that it is the chef’s recommendation. The quaintly titled ‘Fiddle Fingers’ section, which features healthier options, is the brainchild of Chef Rajeev’s 11-year old daughter, who is always his best critic, he says.
Our meal began with an amuse-bouche of Soft Polenta with Ratatouille (450). Historically, Italy and France might have been at loggerheads on various issues, but the tiny mound of Italian porridge was the perfect comrade-in-arms for the French sautéed vegetables.
The Sambucca Prawn (590) has an interesting story. Chef Rajeev used to cook these medium sized prawns with a popular wine brand, till his boss took umbrage. So, he tweaked the recipe to go with the colorless and almost flavorless Sambuca, and voila, the boss liked it. Well, we have to thank his boss, because this dish was a hit with us too, especially the mild fieriness of chili flakes on top.
HEALTHIER OPTIONS ABOUND
We knew that pizza would feature somewhere in the menu, but we were not prepared for the healthier French Pissaladerie (325). Served with some amazing pesto sauce, it is apparently the popular choice amongst the waist-conscious celebrities who frequent Levo. Thankfully, for once healthy food did not translate to boring fare, given the thin crust of the bread, oodles of grilled veggies and extra virgin olive oil drizzled over.
Now, we have a confession to make here. Crepes top the list of foods that always fail to impress us. We expected to include Levo’s White Mushroom Crepe (590) to our list of least-loved fare. But surprise, surprise, the soft crepes filled with a peppy pesto sauce and chopped mushrooms might escape that list after all. The sauce lent a nice earthy flavor to the blandness of the crepe, and while we might not exactly clap our hands and sing Hallelujah, we would not turn away the dish uneaten either.
Next up was Pulled Pork (790) served Texan style, where the braised pork was shredded finely and served with potato mash and caramelized onion jus. It would have been equally at home with some rice or bread, and we do hope Chef Rajeev serves these on the side. The Coq Au Vin (650) is prettily, and sensibly, presented in two covered jars, one with the chicken in gravy and the other with steamed rice. This is anytime comfort food and luckily even those who would give European food a wide berth will like its taste because it resonates with flavors that Indians relate to.
Our last dish for the meal was the Lamb Navarin Printanier (850), which is New Zealand lamb in a brown sauce stew with vegetables. At this point, we noted that quite a few dishes on Levo’s menu had braised meat and brown sauce. Chef Rajeev later revealed that this is how he prefers to cook his meat at home, even for his kids, because it is simple, flavorful and easy to polish off. Like he mentioned, the food served at Levo is his own interpretation of European food, made soul-stirringly worthy for Mumbai’s patrons.
We doubted Levo could surprise us with any more delights. But we were wrong, and it was one of those rare moments when one takes pride in being proven wrong. The ceramic cup with Chef’s creation of fresh ice creams was quietly placed before us, and we carelessly scooped a spoonful into our mouths – little expecting the fiery burst of chillies to hit the back of our throat! Yes sir, the Ferrari Chilli Ice cream (250) is something to watch out for and the perfect prank to pull on your fellow diner. The Basil Pannacotta (290) reads a lot more interesting than it tastes. Served with olive compote and raspberry sorbet, it is a gelatinous dessert that takes some getting used to.
However, Chef Rajeev is willing to accept that not all the items on his menu will find favor with his diners and he keeps reworking his dishes based on comments from regulars. In his own words, the food is evolving based on the hits and misses at the restaurant.
It is always a pleasure to meet with such an affably humble chef, and we see ourselves heading back to Levo soon. Besides, there are so many interesting dishes on the menu that demand to be savored. How can we resist this lure?