| Aqua at The Park. Picture by Rashbehari Das
You must be dreaming of food 24 hours a day,” I said. “Twenty eight,” was the reply, almost before I had finished speaking.
Davide Cananzi, executive chef at The Park, was right. Twenty eight was probably a more accurate estimate. Spend a few minutes with him and you know that his brain is always brimming with ideas. The possibilities are endless. The sky is the limit. No ingredient is too commonplace. Anything can be conjured up into something exotic. Innovation and creativity are cornerstones of his art.
We were sitting at Aqua, a new dining destination in the city, sampling the menu, which is entirely his baby, gestation and all. They have created an al fresco dining area on a suspended timber deck by the hotel’s poolside, as well as an air-conditioned indoor space with a glass front so that if it’s warm in the daytime, guests can wine and dine inside and still have the feeling of being by the poolside.
It is a menu that defies categorisation. Tradition sits easily next to modern. Ideas find expression. The Sandwich and Panini Corner with burgers, baguettes, grilled sandwiches and the traditional club sandwich has shades of a coffee shop menu, while the Aqua Specialities, a small selection of seven items, has nuggets like Stir Fried Tofu with Garlic and Peas Pulao, Thai Green Curry with Steamed Rice and Dahi and Grilled Jumbo Prawns with heads on, with soft vegetable and polenta mash and asparagus. If there is a leaning, it is towards Cananzi’s Italian and European roots, but there is an open-mindedness, and a sourcing from his direct environment, which makes it refreshing.
Cananzi also happens to be a jamai of ours; he is increasingly enjoying Bengali and Indian cuisine and follows cricket. The future is full of possibilities.
Soup of the Day was a Chicken Sweet Corn Soup with the surprise inclusion of asparagus which is sauteed with the chicken and corn kernels before the chicken stock is added and clarified with egg white.
Another surprise ingredient is star anise which gives it a unique character. Finished with chopped spring onions, it made a delicate beginning.
We were then served a platter of six different hors d’oeuvres, taken from the section of the menu headed Old World Savouries. There were Arancini Rice Balls, made by cooking arborio risotto rice with onions, parmesan cheese and green peas in white wine and water, and finishing with butter.
When the rice cools, it is shaped into spheres (its sticky nature makes this easy), the spheres are stuffed at the centre with mozzarella cheese and a coriander-pesto sauce and then egg-and-crumbed and fried.
Seafood Croquettes, Cheese and Jalapeno Peppers and Stuffed Button Mushrooms were three other items crumb-fried after being dipped in egg batter. The Seafood Croquettes are cylindrical shapes of roughly chopped salmon, crabmeat, shrimps, bekti and pepper and later Dijon mustard and egg yolk, before being shaped and fried.
The Cheese and Jalapeno Peppers are triangular in shape, made with chopped jalapenos, grated cheddar cheese, egg yolk and seasoning and the stuffed mushrooms involve only the caps, not the stems. These are partially scooped out and stuffed with blanched, chopped spinach and mozzarella cheese before being fried.
There were bite-sized Mini Chicken Tikka Pizzas topped with Italian tomatoes, peeled, chopped and raw (no sauce is made) along with mozzarella cheese and chicken before being baked, and the finale was slices of parma ham skewered with a cube of honeydew melon.
Four excellent dips were served with this platter. There was the classic alioli garlic mayonnaise sauce, the classic Italian arrabbiata and two innovative ones — a pesto (basil, pine nuts, garlic, parmesan cheese and olive oil pureed together) with the unusual addition of coriander leaves and the papaya relish, made like a compote, stewing raw papaya flakes in water with sugar, cumin and turmeric and finishing with ghee.
For the main course, there were two items. Grilled Fresh Tuna with Fried Rice and Tomato Coriander Vinaigrette, and Risotto with mixed seafood and Lobster Bisque. For the first, 100 gram tuna steaks are marinated in olive oil, garlic, oregano, thyme, salt and crushed black pepper and grilled — rare, medium or well-done — as tuna is red meat. The vinaigrette accompaniment is tomatoes, coriander, garlic and lemon juice simmered in white wine. The fried rice is straight ahead, but no soya sauce is used.
The seafood risotto involves the same seafood as the croquet and the rice-seafood combination, which is sauteed (first with garlic and onion, is cooked by very slowly adding lobster bisque, a thin soup, or stock, made with lobster head. The risotto is finished with butter and chopped basil. For dessert, homemade Italian gelato (ice-cream) with fruits. What a meal. Like music, food is only great if it is memorable, and this will remain in memory for a long time.
Apart from Cananzi’s creations, Aqua’s attractions include the most extensive wine, spirits, cocktails, aperitifs and liqueurs list I have ever seen (at least 160 selections!), a fine cigar collection and surroundings that make it a unique destination for tasteful hedonism.
Secluded, wings with mattresses and bolsters for couples to enjoy champagne and caviar by the pool, double beds housed in enormous circular wicker-baskets and a jacuzzi to wallow in just behind the main pool with attention to detail such as heavy glasses placed on suction-padded coasters. Enjoy.