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Wine & Dine

Pizza goes posh


The homely pizza has gone gourmet. The toppings range from Lobster Thermidor and black Alaskan cod to aubergine and pancetta.

The easiest dinner choice when you are glued to the TV or need a shot of carb-laden cheesy goodness has turned gourmet. For those with a more discerning palate, the good ol' spicy chicken pizza now has competition in new flavours such as asparagus, artichokes, aubergines and okra. Yes, okra on a pizza.

The past few months have seen international pizzerias set up shop in Indian metros and they have brought with them thinner crusts, better-tasting cheese and exotic toppings. Pizza Metro Pizza, which has its flagship restaurant in London as does Pizza Pizza Express have opened up in Mumbai whereas the favourite pizzeria of Hollywood stars - they are frequent visitors to the eatery around the world - Ciro's Pomodoro calls Delhi home. These pizzerias promise the quintessential Italian pizza experience by working with the finest Italian flour, freshest produce, imported meats and Italian chefs calling the shots in the kitchen.

Pizza was born as a food for the poor but the gourmet pizza was created for the privileged. It's a trend that has spread far and wide. From Italy to Chicago to even Delhi, chefs are now attempting to toss shrimp, caviar and even potato on pizzas. There's no Cheddar-chewiness;in place, you have ricotta and bocconcini. Instead of cola, you have the option to sip a cool Chianti.

Pizza Metro Pizza offers 24 different pizza combinations along with a wine list. Apart from the ubiquitous Margherita, there's one with aubergine and pancetta, another one with rocket and ham and one with even okra and green chilies. Sam Melde, the Indian franchisee of the London pizzeria, says that no compromise was made for Indian tastes when it came to planning the menu. "We didn't make any customisations. What you see here is what you would get to eat at the Battersea branch in London. But we have adapted one pizza to local needs, keeping in mind that most Indians are vegetarians, " Melde says. "Also some ingredients are difficult to source in India so some recipes have been finetuned but there really isn't any difference in flavour as such. "

Ciro's Pomodoro has on its menu Sharon Stone's favourite pizza as well as Sophia Lauren's and Clint Eastwood's. It has now made place for Jackie Shroff's pizza of choice as well, with asparagus, pesto and peppers. Amit Manchanda, who ended up opening the franchise in Delhi after a late-night dinner conversation with owner Ciro in London last year, had to bow to the Delhiite's demands. "A person in Delhi can't eat out without having some familiar tastes so we have the Chicken Tikka pizza. Also, Indians prefer a slightly more thin crust than they have in Naples, " he says.

There are other little allowances that Manchanda and his Italian chef Raffaele del Re make for their Indian customers, like the parma ham pizza Prosciutto which is ideally supposed to be served at room temperature but is served hot due to the customer's insistence, or ignorance.

A gourmet pizza was conceived with the belief that less is better. But how does the simple mozzarella, tomato and basil piece achieve gourmet status? One way is by using the finest quality ingredients. This, of course, pushes up prices and moves the homely pizza into the gourmet category even if at the end of the day it remains an oven-baked, flat, round bread with tomato sauce on it.

An average meal for two with a glass of wine or beer is likely to set you back by Rs 3, 000 at Pizza Metro Pizza but Melde feels that for the quality of the food being served, this is par for the course. "India is a long way from Italy and we import a lot of our ingredients - from flour to tomatoes to olives and olive oil, meats and cheeses, and we give you a great ambience, something that Pizza Hut and Dominos never can, " says Melde. Ciro's recently underwent a price correction as most diners felt that paying more than Rs 600 for a pizza felt steep. "I am not feeding them dough. I'm giving them the best cheese and the best meat but customer is king, " Manchanda shrugs.

If artichokes and asparagus and the best ricotta or boccocini on your pizza just doesn't cut it, there are always the uber expensive pizzas that pack in some crazy flavours at a crazy price. A Vancouver restaurant offered its customers a $437 (Rs 24, 000) 12-inch pie topped with Lobster Thermidor, black Alaskan cod and Russian Osetra caviar instead of your average pepperoni. Taking its inspiration from that, probably, The Qube, the all-day dining coffee shop at The Leela, gave Delhi its most expensive pizza.

Created by chef Glen Eastman and sous chef Karan Suri to be the talk of town, the High Life - that's what it's called - is a wood-fired pizza topped with Canadian lobster and thyme-scented mascarpone cheese and finished off with a sprinkling of "28 grams" of rare Iranian Beluga caviar.

Chef Sabyasachi Gorai or Chef Saby, as he's popularly known, whips up delicacies at The Olive in New Delhi. His open-toview wood fired pizzas with chicken and asparagus or spinach, walnuts and goat cheese, are popular orders. He remembers the time when no Italian restaurant worth its name would serve pizzas. "When I started working at an upscale Italian restaurant in Juhu, we took pride in not serving pizzas. Pizzerias serve pizza, not restaurants. And there was this restaurant called Little Italy that sold the typical Indianised Italian fare: pizzas with extra cheese, pasta in pink sauce. They would have 200 covers and we would get 40. Now all Italian restaurants serve pizzas, " he recalls.

The current crop of Italian restaurants may have dressed up the pizza but chef Saby believes that gourmet isn't always better. "The easier toppings always sell more."


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