Childhood memories

Classic Italian at the al fresco Ciao Terrazza

Dario Busnelli, chef de cuisine of Ciao Terrazza, a trattoria-style restaurant, has brought his Italian roots and childhood memories to the menu at the Mandarin Oriental's seasonal restaurant.

Dishes at the popular riverfront al fresco dining spot, are a mix of classic, wholesome Italian and chef Busnelli's childhood. Born in Thailand and brought up in Milan, chef Busnelli exudes a warm bubbly personality, which is evident in his love for food, instilled at an early age by his aunt, who raised him in Italy. It is from accompanying his aunt to her kitchen that the chef learnt about the joy of cooking and food.

Ciao Terrazza offers chef Busnelli's redefined take on Italian classics. Begin with the Crudo di ricciola, finocchietto e agrumi, which translates to passion fruit, citrus-marinated hamachi, fennel crudité and caviar. "I chose hamachi because the flavour is the closest to the Mediterranean king fish," explains the chef. This was his aunt's staple Sunday dish, modernised by chef Busnelli. I love octopus in all forms and the Polpo or slow-cooked giant octopus with saffron potato, needle beans and thyme-poached cannellini with potato and Arneis dressing did not disappoint. The octopus is put into a water bath with chilli, garlic and bay leaves at 78 degrees for eight hours. "The bay leaf is the umami of Italian cuisine in my opinion," proclaims chef Busnelli. It is then boiled in a stock of water, lemon, celery, carrots and onions for 15 minutes. Despite the sous vide and boil, the octopus still has bite to it and the dressing uses a vinegar from Piedmont. Crackling fritto misto or Frittino di mare offers batter-fried Atlantic sea bream, Argentinian red prawn and calamari served with a tangy coriander mayo.

Tuscan fishmonger's seafood soup.

Champagne risotto.

Zia Pina's lasagna.

Apple strudel.

I'm more of a risotto girl than a pasta one and the Risotto della festa allo Champagne e Gamberi rossi pulled on my heartstrings. "A classic Milanese dish, though I use Champagne in it. To enhance the risotto, I use the tomalley from the red prawns in the stock and the prawns are served raw. These prawns are normally eaten crudo-style because if they are cooked they will loose their sweetness," adds the chef. The lashings of cream on the risotto is straccietella. I am still craving this dish, four days later. This is how good it is!

Zia Pina's baked lasagna is a true labour of love and is the one dish that chef Busnelli feels should be presented as is -- some classics do not need refinement! "The pasta is made with 40 egg yolks for 1kg of flour and is quite rich. It is a recipe I love most when making pasta. All our pasta is made using this recipe. At Ciao, we serve two types of pasta, pork and beef, though the classic uses 60% beef and 40% pork. The beef one uses wagyu shank, which is braised the old-fashioned way for three hours. No sous vide machine or modern techniques are used," emphasis chef Busnelli.

Chef Dario Busnelli.

Fritto misto.

Slow-cooked giant octopus.

Il cacciucco or Ciao Terrazza's recipe for Tuscan fish soup is inspired by a fishermen's stew from Livorno, which is made from leftover seafood after having sold their catch. "Instead of poaching the seafood in stock, we cook everything separately in order to obtain the perfect consistency. Mussels from the Netherlands, Manila clams, sea bass from the Atlantic and Spanish octopus tips are served in a delightfully delicious tomato-tomalley broth.

Dessert may be a surprise -- in the fact that it is almost never seen in Italian restaurants. Lo strudel di mele or apple strudel generally comes from Austria or Germany, however it is also popular in the northern region of Italy, especially in Trentino where the apples are grown. The dessert is a combination of a classic apple strudel recipe and the Mandarin Oriental recipe. "We use pasta filo, which is stretched out with four layers of butter. The apple is marinated overnight in marsala and cooked the next day. The strudel is served with a crème Anglaise, which also has a hint of marsala. The ice cream is a mascarpone with cinnamon," says chef Busnelli. This dessert is quite rich and the fresh array of berries that pretties the strudel helps cut the richness.

If you're already salivating, hurry to make a reservation at Ciao Terrazza. The restaurant is only open till the end of March from Friday to Tuesday, 6-11pm, before it closes and reopens again in the Bangkok "winter". Call 02-659-9000 or email mobkk-restaurants@mohg.com.


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