| The interiors of Fire and Ice; Annamaria’s daughter Amarilli digs in. Picture by Rashbehari Das
Why Calcutta'” I asked Annamaria Forgione, an Italian lady who has recently opened a branch of Fire and Ice, her restaurant in Kathmandu, in the city.
“I wanted to open an outlet in India,” she said. “I also wanted to be part of a project involving rural women in producing mozzarella cheese locally. I could buy the cheese, teach them to make and they could gain from the arrangement as well. Also, somehow, Calcutta gave me a good feeling. I felt comfortable here.”
So now in the city we have a branch of a celebrated Kathmandu eatery (it featured in Time magazine; Sting and Richard Gere are clients) and in Sonarpur on the southern outskirts they are producing mozzarella cheese.
Fire and Ice is located at the corner of Middleton Street and Chowringhee Road in Kanak Building, an old property with pillars, columns, thick walls and high ceilings. When you enter, the feeling is of space and light. The restaurant is well appointed and much of what the kitchen staff is upto is visible and the impression is of clean efficiency.
There are shades of Kathmandu here, right from a first glance at the beverages selection ' choices such as Hut Lemon, Hot Lemon with Honey and Mint Iced Tea reminded me of of my first sojourn in Nepal ' a real hub of tourist traffic, people always on the move and on the lookout for clean, calorie-free, organic food.
Kathmandu, and the Thamel area of that city in particular, is full of interesting restaurants providing food for every international taste. People are searching for a taste of home and very little of the food is modified to “suit the local palate”, because the local palate is not what most restauranteers are catering to.
Most diners have busy itineraries and four or five-course meals are left to the interiors of the five-star hotels. Out in the city, people want clean, light food served up reasonably quickly. Of course, sometimes, you will see a group of people relaxing on the evening of a busy day of sightseeing, chatting away for a couple of hours over a leisurely meal.
Many of these elements are at work at Fire and Ice. No spices are used in the cooking 'only natural herbs. No bottled sauces where there may be chemical preservatives used, not even tomato ketchup. Vegetables and salad greens are of the best available quality and if it means sourcing items from Bangalore or Delhi or even importing them, it is done.
On my first visit to Fire and Ice, I started with Hot Lemon with Honey. The weather was dismal; it had rained on the trot for three days and this was just what the doctor ordered. It cleansed the taste buds as well.
Then came pizza accompanied by a salad. The pizza was Paesana ' mozzarella, tomato sauce, bacon, spinach, zucchini, garlic and parmesan ' and the salad was Insalata Mista ' Italian mixed salad with lettuce, tomato, cucumber, onion slices and lemon dressing.
I had ordered the salad because in my experience whenever I have had pizza I have needed something moist and cool to balance the dryness and saltiness of the pizza. This was actually unnecessary that day. The crust was thin and crisp till the very edge, which had blisters on it to show that the dough was just right. The ingredients on top were in correct proportions ' for me at least ' the presence of bacon not overstated, the spinach and zucchini giving it the right moisture and within minutes I had wolfed down half a pizza, without thinking.
The salad, delicious and clean tasting as it was with the green and red lettuce crunchy, the lemon dressing subtle and a surprise of grated carrots at the bottom, became almost an afterthought.
There are 21 pizza selections on the menu. All are of the same size and 10 are vegetarian. Toppings for these include interesting ingredients like caramelised onion, eggplant trifolate and fried potatoes. Among the non-vegetarian pizzas, one one must try is Hawaiiana ' tomato sauce, mozzarella, ham, pineapple, green peppers, gingers and oregano.
Speaking for myself, I am thankful that there is no chance of running into tikka kebabs, cumin or coriander powder or turmeric in this place. And speaking for myself, these are the best pizzas in town.
I have so far tried three other items at Fire and Ice. Two soups and the very well known Spaghetti Bolognese.
I must confess that these items were takeaways and while the soups did not lose anything, this is not fair on the bolognese. Though there was nothing left of it, it should have been eaten when just made.
The soups were Zuppa Di Verdura ' traditional Minestrone Soup with vegetables and pasta (spaghetti) and a simple chicken broth (“like Grandma made it”). Both were excellent and tasted just like homemade items. The minestrone really hit the spot; the chicken broth, aromatic and inviting, just a tiny shade too salty for me.
They also have a selection of lasagna, but the final word must be for the ice-creams and the desserts, or how else is it a good Italian restaurant' The ice-creams are from Italy ' a small selection, vanilla and chocolate, with toppings of fruit flavours to choose from (rasp, kiwi fruit and cherry).
There are also crepes (shades of Kathmandu again) ' with sugar/sugar and lemon/honey/ice-cream/nutella or bananas and nutella.
And Chocolate Mousse and Walnut Brownies and Homemade Apple Pie.
Fire and Ice is a welcome addition to the city’s culinary map. In time, I feel it will become a favourite haunt. This will vindicate the fact the Naples (where Annamaria was raised) and Calcutta are considered twin cities.