Eating spaghetti in Baroda

I ENJOY ITALIAN FOOD. Very occasionally, I discover Italian restaurants abroad that serve authentic Italian dishes, food that makes no compromises to non-Italian tastes.

Back in the 1980s, Giovanni’s in Chatham (Kent, UK) was an oasis of superb food in the then desert of mediocrity, the Medway Towns. Apart from other beautifully prepared dishes, his spaghetti with pesto was perfect. Unfortunately, Giovanni’s, a justifiably expensive place pf good taste, went out of business several years before I ceased practising as a dentist in the Medway Towns in about 1993.

Grahamstown in South Africa was another surprising place where, in 2003, we discovered a remarkably good Italian eatery rin by an Italian family. I do not remember its name but it was near where we were staying on Somerset (?) Street. I doubt tje restaurant still exists.

Manhattan is rich in Italian eateries. One which we visited by chance on a street in East 50s, was superb. I forget what we ate, but after we had eaten we read the reviews hanging on the window. We might have missed this restaurant’s gastronomic treats had we read the review which related that the establishment’s prices were “vertiginous”. The reviewer was not kidding.

When Unity Mitford was in Munich in the 1930s, she developed a crush on Adolf Hitler. His favourite restaurant in Munich was the Osteria Bavaria, an Italian restaurant, which still exists but has been renamed Osteria Italia. Unity used to sit in the Bavaria at a table near to that occupied by Adolf, and was often invited to join him and his dining companions. In the early 2000s, I had a meal at Adolf’s renamed restaurant, which has retained much of its original decor. The Italian food served there was magnificent. I was amused by the establishment’s apt motto: “In touch with history”.

One of the best Italian meals I have eaten in London was at Asaggi near Westbourn Grove. Another memorably good Italian place I have tried is Zafferano near Knightsbridge. I forget what I ate, but that evening Sean Connery also ate there as well as the shorter of the Two Ronnies (British comedians). Sean Connery ate in a private room, guarded by a waiter, who told us: “We ‘ave to be careful this evening. We don’t want no trouble with James Bond.”

In India, there are plenty of restaurants offering Italian inspired food, but most of them produce disappointing dishes. Chianti in Koramangala (Bangalore) is one notable exception. I have eaten there at least twice, always most satisfactorily. Their food is very close to authentic Italian cuisine. However, the branch of Chianti in MG Road is disappointing.

It was two visits to Baroda (Vadodara) in Gujarat that prompted me to write this piece. The Fiorella in a hotel in the Alkapuri district serves truly excellent Italian food. It was set up by an Indian chef, who had trained in Italy and worked in restaurants there for more than fourteen years. Ravichandra, who became a master chef in Italy, qualified to supervise the running of kitchens in Italian restaurants, was employed by the hotel in Baroda. His brief was to set up a restaurant serving Italian food that made no compromises to pander to local tastes.

Fiorella is the successful result. We first ate there in early 2019, when Ravichandra was in the kitchen. Then, we returned in January 2020, by which time he had left. We were sad to miss him, but overjoyed to discover that, even without him, the food is still a great gastronomic delight. It is a case of ‘when in Baroda, eat as the Romans do’.

A globe trotting chef in Gujarat

So-called Italian food is popular in India. Indians are fond of pasta and pizza and are happy to eat almost anything that claims to fall into these categories. Often what is served as “Italian food” would be almost unrecognizable to Italians.

However, things are changing. Increasing numbers of Indians now visit Europe and many Europeans and Americans familiar with authentic Italian food visit India. They are more discerning than about the quality of Italian food served in India than Indians who have not been abroad.

Despite this, very few Italian restaurants in India are serving what I would consider Italian food like Mamma would make. Chianti Restaurant in Koramangala (south Bangalore) does makes the grade.

Tonight, I ate at Fiorella in the Alkapuri district of Vadodara in Gujarat. This Italian restaurant serves brilliant food. It is Italian food which makes no compromises to satisfy traditional Indians’ palates.

We met Ravichandra, Fiorella’s chef. He speaks Italian fluently, which is not surprising as he lived and worked in various cities in Italy for 14 years. He has lived abroad, mostly in Europe, for a total of 22 years.

He became a member of the Federation of Italian Chefs. He worked as a consultant advising the owners of Italian restaurants all over the UK. Spending 3 months in each restaurant, he helped their owners improve their establishments.

Following his return to India in 2008, Ravichandra, who was born in Kerala, worked in various hotels and restaurants before 2012, when the owner of the Express Residency Hotel in Vadodara asked him to set up Fiorella. The plan was to establish Fiorella as a totally authentic Italian eatery, whose food was not at all adapted to Indian tastes. This, Ravichandra has achieved most successfully. An Italian eating here would not be disappointed.