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Review: Ritu Dalmia brings hearty Italian food with MOTODO

Mumbai's newest Italian restaurant has three things going for it—inviting interiors, an aperitivo bar and food that infuses wonder 

The food at MOTODO
The food at MOTODO

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The trio of beetroot salad was a symphony of colours. Roasted and pickled slices of red and yellow beetroot were laid atop a quivering ball of white creamy cheese streaked with balsamic vinegar. The cheese could have passed off as burrata, but it was a blend of ricotta and parmesan cream. I was digging into the salad with curiosity—and wonder—at Ritu Dalmia’s newest restaurant, MOTODO, which opened in Mumbai yesterday.

MOTODO is a portmanteau of three words—mozzarella, tomato and dough—the trifecta of ingredients for a pizza. The trattoria-style dining spot is a partnership venture between Dalmia and Jio World Drive located in Bandra Kurla Complex.

The essence of casual dining is imbued with glass walls and open kitchen with a view of the pizza ovens. The upscale aperitivo bar is next to the kitchen area. Their beverage menu has been crafted in collaboration with Bacardi India. My drink had an orange vermouth aperitif, Martini Fiero, launched by Bacardi last year. It was mixed with grapefruit tonic, and my first impression was—refreshing.

The interiors of MOTODO
The interiors of MOTODO

The restaurant positions itself as a pizzeria, but goes above and beyond mozzarella, tomato and dough. Consider the beetroot salad. It was my first encounter with yellow beetroot. Dalmia informed, “This variety isn’t popular in cities, and is fed to cattle in the hinterlands.” Trust a chef to take an unknown— and ordinary—ingredient and turn it into something magnificent.

Beetroot, cauliflower and eggplant are Dalmia’s favourite vegetables and the menu has a few items elevating these. One of them is a roasted cauliflower drizzled with balsamic-maple sauce served in a moat of pea puree; another is a traditional and hearty eggplant parmigiana. From the appetisers segment, there’s a classic fresh-off-the-oven focaccia de recco served with an eggplant dip laced with the appetising sourness of capers. Vegetarians, rejoice.

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The chef wants to focus on simple home-cooked food from different regions of Italy. One of them is a pasta dish from Apulia in southern Italy. “It’s for a warm hearty lunch,” said Dalmia while serving the orecchiette with crumbled pork sausage. The medley of flavours drew from the mild sweet and sour notes of tomatoes, sharp taste of Parmesan cheese and rounded off with rosemary. It has the satisfying comfort of khichdi with kheema. The pasta was followed by potato gnocchi with four cheese sauce and charred asparagus. Cheese lovers would dig it; but I was under the spell of the robust flavours of orecchiette.

The gnocchi felt like a palate cleanser for what followed next—sous vide lamb and chicken cotolleta. Sous vide is an aberration when the menu focuses on home made food, but MOTODO leaves room to flex. The interplay of the juicy lamb, mellow tartness of balsamic vinegar, the texture of glazed baby carrots and sweet pumpkin were in complete sync. But, don’t follow it up with dry dish like the chicken cotolleta, just as I did. Cotolleta is a like a schnitzel served with cherry tomato salad, and could be eaten after a round of appetisers and salads.

The last two dishes were desserts; both served on a bed of runny custard. Moist almond torte garnished with crunchy almond slivers is a non-fussy sweet treat which reflects Dalmia’s no-frills food philosophy for the restaurant. The mildly sweet crispy bombolino filled with creamy dark chocolate ganache is a harmonious play of textures, and flavours. Just as the salad, I ate it with curiosity and wonder.

For an Italian restaurant, truffle was conspicuously missing. Dalmia points out, “Fresh truffle is available for only 4 months in the whole year and we fly ours in from Italy only during the seasons.” In an interview with Hindustan Times last year, Dalmia said with her first Italian restaurant in Hauz Khas, which opened almost 30 years ago, her focus was to ‘teach Delhi how to eat Italian food’. With her new restaurant in Mumbai, it seems her focus remains unchanged.

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