Traditional Italian dishes meet modernity here

Italian food festival at Alba in JW Marriott is curated by chef Brian Moore from Phuket

Local Melon Gazpacho-basil granita, basil foam, ricotta salata

In JW Marriott’s continuing series of food festivals, where chefs and sous chefs from all over the world collaborate to curate crafted menus, Alba, the Italian restaurant at the Marriott, is hosting a contemporary Italian food festival for ten days. The invitation was to sample some of the fare on offer and interact with Chef Brian Moore, the executive sous chef at JW Marriott Phuket. Along with Chef Eliyaz of Alba, Chef Brian has concocted a treat for the senses. The menu on offer can be ordered a la carte, or the epicurean in you can opt for the curated meal (both vegetarian and non-vegetarian).

In his conversation with us, Chef Brian said that through the course of his 30-year career, he has found inspiration in many places, including small trattorias in Italy and gourmand hotels in Hong Kong. The menu at this festival has been inspired by tradition and Italian dishes passed down from generation to generation, he said, but the technique (molecular gastronomy) and the plating are contemporary. There are many dishes to choose from: Duck Liver Foie Gras Parfait, Soft Potato Gnocchi with Morels, Handcrafted Lobster & Alaskan King Crab Tortellini, Spinach and Caramelized Onion Mezzelune, Sous-Vide Cooked Tenderloin Steak, Sorrento Lemon Tart, Beets and Goat Cheese Sorbet, among others.

In the curated menu, we tasted of this old-meets-new spread, the humble chicken soup has been reimagined to feature a chicken “sandwich” in the clear broth. The burrata salad features a local favourite ingredient – raw, slightly sweet mango, instead of the traditional Caprese approach of tomatoes – with locally sourced, locally grown arugula (in place of basil/pesto) that’s far less peppery than the spiky original.

Panna cotta, a dessert usually served up with berry confit or coffee, is shaped into an undulating ribbon and flavoured with Chinese five spice. Chef Brian, a firm non-believer in “fusing” cuisines, segued a little in the creation of this dish, he confessed, and the aroma wafting in as the dessert was served is to be experienced to be believed. The comfort of the warm spices of cinnamon, clove and nutmeg (among others) served up a healthy dose of nostalgia. Certain foods and aromas can trigger nostalgia without a firm connect to any memory, and this did that for me. Served with olive caramel for the complementary saltiness, and poached pears that were just the right degree of chewy in texture, this dish was a cut above the rest for the dessert-loving vegetarian in me.

But the absolute stand-out dish of the evening was Chef Eliyaz’s inspired take on the gazpacho, the traditional cold summer soup version of which features tomato and cucumber and fresh herbs. In this version, the gazpacho is made with local melons, and the sweetness of the soup is beautifully paired with basil foam and basil granita. The coldness of the soup kept the crunchy texture of the granita intact. The hereby basil married beautifully with the gentle sweetness of the melons on the palate and left me wanting, nay, craving more of it, long after the evening came to an end.

The festival is on till July 25.

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