The Four Seasons Mumbai hosted a Turkish and Mediterranean food fest this week and I was invited for a Chef’s table preview event. Turkish and Mediterranean food – I had visions of kebabs and kofteh, mezze, tagines and of course, Turkish Delight, Baklava, and coffee. I looked forward to an evening sampling delicious fare and learning about the cuisine of that region. This food fest was organised in collaboration with Turkish Airlines which is celebrating 10 years in India.
After pre-dinner drinks we took our seats at the two tables set up for the preview at the venue, Cafe Prato. Having been to a few food fest previews, I expected an overtly Turkish theme reflected in the decor, if not across the entire restaurant, at least on the tables. Apart from a few typical Middle Eastern glass and metal lamps I saw nothing special. Anyway, we were seated and I browsed the menu. It looked good.
Turkish start to the afternoon
Mezze platters arrived. There were 10 guests at our table and we were given two platters between us all. Each platter had six little bowls with assorted mezze. I noticed that one side of our table had received a platter of pita breads quickly got over shared by four or five people. No bread on our side. Since the mezze was sent out in minuscule quantities each guest took a bare teaspoon each. In the mean while Gavurdagi, a salad, arrived. No bread yet.
The menu mentioned a braised artichoke starter from the Imzir region. It never arrived, though I asked for it twice. Someone plonked bowls of soup around the table, Tarhana soup. It was cold. Maybe it is supposed to be, I don’t know. I would have liked to know what to expect. The chefs did come out to explain what we were eating after every course was served, so that didn’t help.
Eventually, the bread arrived. I got one half of a pita and never saw any more bread. The offerings on the mezze platter were quite good, the muammara was exceptional.
Manti or Turkish ravioli – tiny ravioli, about the size of your thumbnail, served with a tomato sauce and topped with yoghurt sauce and spiced oil arrived. We were served about a tablespoon of the ravioli each. I was a little perplexed at the meagre (bordering on stingy) portions being served. You need a decent portion to taste and understand flavours and textures – more than a teaspoon or tablespoon for sure.
Wheat Balls stuffed with lamb ragout in tomato sauce – there were four of these to be shared on a table of 10. By now I was hesitating to serve myself for fear of taking too much and leaving the others starving.
Most of us eagerly awaited the Eight Hours Cooked Boneless Lamb Shank. Two plated portions arrived. This dish looked like a dessert, it was that beautiful. It had multiple elements involving a jus, a puree, a creamed eggplant, etc. Once we’d finished taking photographs the servers proceeded to scoop out hunks of the dish and plonk them on our plates. To think that they spent eight hours cooking the lamb, and more time getting the other elements together and plating it all up so beautifully, only to serve it in this awful fashion! Needless to say I couldn’t make much sense of the dish or its elements.
Bowls of rice topped with flaked almonds appeared. Some of us wondered if this was a dessert – there was a rice pudding mentioned in the menu. The rice turned out to be savoury and delicious, lightly flavoured from being cooked in stock, and the almonds giving it a lovely crunch. I proceeded to devour it not realising it was a part of the Chicken Beyti. The chicken arrived several minutes later – two tiny morsels of a very bland chicken. It would probably have gone well with the rice but a) I didn’t know it was with the rice b) it came to the table much later.
Somewhere in the middle of all this came the Chef’s Sea Bass Bugulama. Another delicately flavoured preparation with minimal ingredients served on a slice of tomato and one of potato. It was cold and I think that killed the dish.
There was barely any food for the vegetarians at the table apart from the starters, the soup, and desserts. No main courses. Not One.
Of five desserts on the menu, three arrived at the table. Later we were led to the buffet where we sampled more desserts amid mentions of coffee though none actually arrived.
Simple things that could have helped
When you invite experts to showcase your food, you want to ensure that –
- your staff is trained right from the basics like refilling water glasses at a table and ensuring they get the drinks they have requested, to replacing cutlery every time they remove the used ones along with plates
- everything on your menu actually gets to the table
- you serve individual portions plated well
- there is food for all your guests, yes, even the vegetarian ones
- there is enough food on the table
It won’t be wrong to say that the experience at the preview was rather lackadaisical. Some interaction with the chefs would have helped a lot to improve that, but it was overlooked for some reason. Irrespective of that, some of the dishes came out with exceptional flavours, others not so much. The quality of service at Prato, however, may need a complete overhaul.
The Ottoman Cafe Turkish Food Fest is on at the Four Seasons Mumbai from 23rd April till 1st May 2016.