Both Rue Brothers are buffs of history, which can sometimes be a drawback when we are ungraciously reminded that we have lived through a lot of it. Dinner table wit and wisdom often wilts when we react with Hannibal Lecter-like leer to any college aspirant who quotes, not Shakespeare, but Wikipedia.
The time will come, we say, when Marhaba will ask us to review a restaurant using 140 expertly chosen characters so we can “tweet” in one-syllable words the delights of a syllabub. Actually, that is an attractive clause in our contract we had not considered.
But for now we will continue to follow orders (an appropriate culinary term) given by our esteemed editors and stick to two sides of A4 in the timeless tradition of that prolific journalist, Phil Space.
One Brother Rue (who shall remain nameless) was recently distraught to discover that a distant relative had been researching his family tree and had unearthed the fact that his tangled ancestral roots lay buried in the heart of Italy under the name of D’Fini.
He may even be a candidate for future president of the European Commission because there is every chance that close inspection of his DNA will reveal traces from at least 28 clans scattered across the continent. To say the least, he was far from genial about this genealogical apocalypse.
So, it seemed entirely appropriate that the venue for our latest assignment was Carisma at the Warwick Doha Hotel, a restaurant that is quintessentially Italian with décor that could easily have graced the set of The Sopranos.
Food featured prominently in that imperious television series, from memorable references to the best home-cooked ziti to raging irreverent remarks about ragu. The country may have been unified in 1861 but even today a cavernous north-south divide stirs passionate debate over what constitutes authentic Italian cuisine.
Happily, there are pizza purists who remain on a mission to preserve the traditional flat focaccia-style fayre that served as a medieval staple in rural and coastal regions. Perhaps the most famous is Da Michele in the centre of Naples where they have served only two types of Neapolitan pizza (Marinara and Margherita) since 1870. “No junk should be used,” decreed the founding father. We concur.
One Brother Rue, not of Italian origin, once discovered a truly memorable recipe called Vincisgrassi when hoping to impress an unsuspecting French filly whose father owned a restaurant near Nice. The dish itself pre-dates unification because it was conceived at the behest of one of Napoleon’s generals whose army occupied the region of Le Marche at the time.
It is an oven-baked pasta delight well worth several hours of preparation. Sticking rigidly to a recipe is a rather robotic way of cooking and the Italians know this well, preferring to improvise with any fresh ingredients on hand. Vincisgrassi looks like lasagne, but it would be heresy in that part of the country to call it lasagne, and the subtle addition of fried chicken liver is highly recommended.
Rosario was our affable and highly professional guide for the evening. He may be a proud Sicilian but he was a unifying force when asked for edited highlights of a menu skilfully crafted by executive chef Andrea Parente to embrace a taste of Italy in its entirety.
The Mozzarella in Carrozza, a deep-fried Tuscan triumph over many decades, was perfectly parcel-wrapped with breadcrumbs and set the stage for the Gamberi al Pomodoro Piccante. The black tiger prawns were from the Indian Ocean and sautéed in parsley, basil, garlic with only a hint of chilli (we would probably have tripled the dose).
Now, mostly lost are the days when the “chef’s special” offered a clue that something from the kitchen was about to pass its sell-by date. The term “signature dish” has a more comforting resonance and we advise attention when confronting such options, particularly at Carisma.
The Agnolotti di Vitello al Tartufo, typical of Piedmont, was quite simply sensational. One Brother Rue had the audacity to question why osso bucco was not on the menu (heathen!) but he was suitably chastened when he found delicate strips of slow-cooked veal shank hidden in perfectly cooked pasta shells and garnished with pine nuts.
It raised the bar for the evening and the kitchen responded with alacrity. The Risotto Funghi Porcini (another signature dish) was greeted with heightened anticipation because cooking exceptional risotto requires care and more than a pinch of concentration.
One Brother Rue, who never did divulge what happened to the poor French lass mentioned earlier in the evening, can be an arborio bore. He often stresses that soaked dried mushrooms always enhance the flavour of risotto but was dumbfounded to discover that chef Andrea used whole frozen porcini from Piedmont. At least the amateur and professional did agree that Italian rice (in this case Carnaroli from the North) must be cooked al dente!
Next on this tantalising tour of Italy came the Saltimbocca alla Salvia, which is thought to originate from Brescia at the foot of the Alps. This classic is mostly associated with veal but Carisma uses chicken topped with a thin layer of bresaola (air-dried salted beef from Lombardy) and sage. It works exceptionally well.
Rosario had been most effusive about the Tagliata di Manzo earlier so it would have appeared rude not to follow his recommendation despite being full to bursting. But, after a short break, the sliced Australian rib-eye deliciously scented with a balsamic sauce and topped with shavings of parmesan presented a far-from-formidable challenge.
Because of such indulgence one Brother Rue passed on the signature tiramisu believing that the homemade coffee panna cotta with hazelnut and chocolate sauce would be a lighter alternative. How wrong was he! The other opted for a chocolate gelato and declared an end to a most enjoyable feast.
We announced our full support for Italian unification and, as we ambled away, one Brother Rue simply said: “It’s all relative.” An historical family reunion awaits!
© Marhaba Information Guide 2016. The Rue Brothers review restaurants exclusively for Marhaba. They have spent a combined 40+ years in Qatar and think they know their onions, and kofta kebabs, by now
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