Those were the days when Basil had to be sneaked into the UK from Italy and then ‘rationed’ to customers at restaurants, it was the era when French cuisine ruled the roost in London and Indian and Chinese were popular cuisines for the emerging class. Lastly this was the time, 1963 to be precise, when young Lorenzo Berni a young hospitality professional of Italian origin with his wife, Late. Mara Berni opened Osteria, an Italian trattoria which served home style North Italian food in Knightsbridge London. Osteria became the Italian restaurant of choice for the who’s who including the royalty and its success resulted in the opening of Fuoriporta in Wimbledon in 1971. After almost 5 decades of Osteria , that the Bernis decided to take their legacy outside of the UK and they chose India and partnered with the Taj Hotels in 2013 to open Maritime at the Lands End in Bandra.
I was at the Maritime to experience the food and wine promotion which began last week and I was privileged to dine with Lorenzo and his daughter Marina, their annual visit to the restaurant coincided with the promotion and mine too. Maritime by San Lorenzo serves food from across Italy but still maintains the core of home-like food and of course has a Lorenzo influence. I could clearly see it when I arrived, I met Marina and Stuti Sinha; the PR head of the hotel first and then Lorenzo emerged from the kitchen a good 20 minutes later. The menu for the afternoon was decided by the man himself, not just the food but wine too and I couldn’t be happier.
Ravioli Burro E Salvia and Gnochetti Quattro Formaggi paired with a ripe Montalcino by Banfi, Crochette di Melanzane e Bufala, aubergine cakes centered with creamy buffalo mozzarella was paired with the Palais Pinot Grigio from Veneto a private label for the Taj, Verdure Ripiene (stuffed vegetables) and Broccoli in a blue cheese emulsion was paired with the big yet feminine Nebbiolo blend from Sito Moresco, Gaja. For dessert was their classic Tiramisu (they have aced it now), Cannoli alla Siciliana, crispy fried dough rolls stuffed with creamed ricotta cheese and candied orange peel and this was paired with liquid Tiramisu a cocktail with Kahlua and Mascarpone. Throughout my meal, the simplicity and the flavours of the food just made think that it was Italy’s ‘Ghar ka khana’.
This lunch was one of my most gastronomically charged meals. We discussed everything; I rather listened to most of it, from Mirto a Sardinian liqueur, Vernaccia di Oristano a wine akin to sherry again from Sardinia, delicious Ox tail preparations made by Italian mothers who couldn’t afford the primes, corn meal and wine meals in Venice during the post war depression and more. The youthful Mr Lorenzo Berni truly embodied the spirit of honesty and simplicity and it reflected in the food at Maritime. As we parted, there was a glint in his eyes as he showed us the picture of a shore that adorned the restaurant’s wall, the picture was from his younger days and it carried a lot of memories for him just like I would of this privileged afternoon…..