La Pergola at the Gulf Hotel has always held a soft spot for many, including myself, for its authentic representation of Italian cuisine and warm hospitality. Being relaunched as La Pergola by Perbellini, in partnership with multi-Michelin-starred chef Giancarlo Perbellini, this newly revamped Italian eatery’s legendary status has gone up a notch.
Walking into the restaurant, my dining companion and I were welcomed by the friendly staff, with typical Italian greetings. We were taken aback by how different the interior looked – the minimalistic new décor is a combination of dark wood interspersed with shades of deep blue, seen both on the walls and the finishing. The naked Edison bulbs above the tables give the entire place a contemporary look.
After a brief introduction from the affable Italian restaurant manager, we chose a selection of delicious-sounding courses from the à la carte menu and settled down with a glass of bubbly. As we took in the soft ambience, freshly baked bread and amuse-bouche arrived. These delicious little morsels were just what our taste buds needed to get them ready for the gastronomic experience that awaited us. We began with Insalata La Pergola. This simple yet refreshing salad, with iceberg lettuce, tomatoes, taggiassche olives, avocado cubes and Grana Padano cheese, was tossed in a subtle avocado dressing. Next up was an Italian favourite – thick cuts of fried aubergine, with buffalo mozzarella, tomatoes, olive and basil oil emulsion – by far one of the best aubergine starters I’ve tasted.
This was followed by two exceptional pasta dishes: mountain potato gnocchi and homemade ravioli. My personal favourite, the soft potato gnocchi had a superb flavour balance with Gorgonzola cheese, tomatoes and walnuts. The sweetness and tanginess of the sundried tomatoes cut through the sharpness and saltiness of the Gorgonzola so beautifully I couldn’t get enough of it. The light ravioli showed chef Perbellini’s take on the classic Italian with a modern twist and came stuffed with basil emulsion and topped with green beans, potatoes and pine nuts. The creamy filling was the star of the dish, which contrasted deliciously with a surprise element of crusty potato crisps.
Still reeling from the deliciousness of the antipasti, it was time for the main courses. I couldn’t resist the temptation of Milanese risotto with fennel oil and orange sensation. The saffron gave the entire dish an eye-catching vibrant yellow colour, which was balanced perfectly with the subtleness of the fennel oil, bringing the dish together in absolute unison.
My companion was tempted by the chef’s special – sous-vide lemon seabass – but was persuaded to try the highly recommended Milanese Croccante – crispy escalope with tomato mayonnaise, seasoned salad and balsamic vinaigrette. A superb dish, the veal escalope – flattened tender meat covered in golden crisp breaded goodness – was served with a fresh medley of fennel, courgettes and crunchy carrots.
As we were still raving about the main courses, chef Perbellini comes to the table for a little tête-à-tête. Explaining the concept, he says: “It’s an Italian restaurant, but done in a contemporary way. The taste is traditional but the way we make the recipes is more modern.”
His fifth time in Bahrain, chef Perbellini has been visiting the Kingdom frequently to check out the local markets and produce. He’ll be in Bahrain three times a year, to change the menu – the next arranged for October-November. “The influence of my cooking is the market and the season, so in autumn and winter we’ll start with cabbage, mushrooms and truffles – more earthy flavours,” he says.
We ended our meal with the lip-smacking chocolate biscuit dessert Cioccocrock. Topped with silky smooth tonka bean ice cream, the wafer base of the chocolate square added the crunch element to complement the creamy richness, and was served by a decadent, earthy barley sauce – a befitting final dish.
The satiating Italian flavours of La Pergola by Perbellini, skilfully presented by this artisan cook, have raised the bar even higher for Italian cuisine and its connoisseurs.
Call 17 746-273.