Islamabad-Recipe for the success of any restaurant is not only due to its location or décor or price,  but it is also the menu and its creator who is the driving force behind the success. Antonio Conforti is one such chef. It’s not been long that the Italian-born chef with many years of culinary experience under his belt has taken over the reins of Zigolini’s, an Italian eatery at Marriott, Islamabad that winds of change have already started to blow. Entering the restaurant the first thing which comes to the notice is the open Salad bar. A round table with colorful vegetables displayed in different platters was not only appealing to the gastronomical diet but the eyes as well. Zucchine Escapece, Peperonata, Polpette, Vova Alla Russa may be difficult to pronounce but once embarked on a journey from the platter to the taste buds, they outsmart each other as they reach their final destination.  

“I believe in change, innovation and creativity” informs Chef Antonio as he helps me fill my plate from the open salad bar. Fried Zucchini mixed with mushrooms in a tangy sauce successfully oomph the taste of rather blended veggie delicacy. The zesty flavor surely upgraded Zucchini, which in general is not a favorite of veggie family. Egg Frittata, also known as Russian eggs, were full boiled split into two, pasted with Thousand Island dressing were heavy for a diet conscious person inching towards a salad bar. Roasted bell pepper with bread crumbs and fresh mozzarella made by chef Antino at Zigolanni secured high marks in grading. 

For the main course, we ordered Lasagna Rustca, Bufalina Pizza, Linguine with Prawns and Reka toni Conpolo Pasta. 

Prawn Linguine is a very popular dish amongst seafood lovers in Italy. Made from sweet prawns, freshly made pasta, rich tomatoes, lemon rocket and a kick of chili, this dish was more close to the chefs home than mine. I advised him to “Pakistanize” it and introduce it to the taste of the local taste buds. The pasta spaghetti was too slippery and hard to roll in the fork; prawns were stripped off the juice and there was no sign of tomato or Arrabiata sauce in the platter. The basic Italian recipe of stir and simmer and sauté was missing in Linguine prawns.

Lasagna Rustca was to die for. Four layered pasta shells, pregnant with finely minced meat and homemade sauce could not have been cooked better to perfection.  Lasagna topped with Mozzarella cheese, Italian seasoning came with a generous helping. The taste of tofu, spinach, and most likely ricotta cheese bedded correctly on the thinly manicured pasta beds cast a spell in the first bite. “Lasagna could go up to 7 layers if need be, informed the chef, who prefers to infuse all his dishes with homemade sauce and no powered stuff or chemical products to support the ingredients.  

Diavola Pizza at Zigollani is my all time favorite but this time around I was advised to be a little adventurous. So, I opted for Bufalina Pizza on the recommendation of the server. It was very cheesy, and the dough base was burdened with an amalgamation of cheese kinds.  The new chef has undoubtedly infused his experience in the pizza corner as this time around it was lighter and crispy on the edges as well. 

Rigatoni alla Boscalola is a very simple dish as per the chef. In the Italian language, Boscaiola means “of the forest” and in autumn season is Tuscan Italy,  the Tuscans make an autumn ritual of gathering mushrooms in the forest and produce some of the best truffles in the world. There could not be a more quintessentially Tuscan dish then Rigatoni alla Boscailoa. It is made with heavy cream or tomato sauce and the mushrooms in the sauce though not Porcini kind was so flavorful that one didn’t need anything else to confuse the taste. Ready to burst, the mushrooms were tender and mixed well in tagliatelle sauce. The feast worthy of a hunter takes simplicity to whole new heights. The chopped parsley aroused the aroma of the dish.

It was on Chef Antino’s insistence that we bowed our heads for all four items on the desserts menu. Fondant, Tiramisu, Panna Cotta and Mouse Chocolate with orange skins on the side was served to the sweet tooth. Panna Cotta was the winner and Chocolate Fondant runner-up. Panna Cotta carried heavy Raspberry sauce topping, and it did kick right on the first bite. Chocolate Fondant drizzled with crystal sugar oozed the chocolate lava arrested in the baked flour. Although the helping was good enough for a party of four to taste but as a popular jingles goes: Dil Mangay More.

– The writer is a freelance contributor.