The Centara’s Italian Job

Friday, 22 July 2011 From Issue Vol. XIX No. 29 By  Miss Terry Diner

The Centara Grand Mirage Beach Resort burst on to the Pattaya scene a couple of years ago, but only now seems to be settling in to its rightful position in the culinary scene.  Part of that process belongs to Italian chef Alberto Bruni, who despite having been in Thailand for the past 20 years, remains the boy from his Italian home village La Spezia, which he left 36 years ago.

Now, do you remember The Italian Job?  The original one released in 1969 that starred Michael Caine, with Benny Hill as the excitable computer expert.  The Centara Grand Mirage’s Italian Acqua restaurant ‘stars’ the enthusiastic chef Alberto Bruni, exhibiting the same amount of ‘passion’ as Benny Hill, as only Italians can.

The Centara Grand’s Italian restaurant is called ‘Acqua’ (water) and is on the ground floor (turn right after the concierge desk) and is a glassed-in venue.  Along the back wall is a kitchen behind glass, and even the private dining area for 14 people is hidden behind glass.  Clever use of dried fronds also gives the appearance of being under water.  Good sized tables, comfortable chairs, quality cutlery and napery and attentive staff all go to show that Acqua is indeed a fine dining restaurant.

We met Chef Alberto, or rather, he met us, as we came in.  He enthuses the diners with non-stop descriptions of his cuisine.  “I know my products,” said Alberto, adding that everything is available these days in Thailand.  For Alberto and the diners at Acqua, these include endives from Belgium, artichokes and Wagyu beef from Australia and a wonderful range of cheeses from Italy.

We began with Alberto’s suggestion of a Pinot Grigio, and he selected the Cuvee di Pinot Bianco e Pinot Grigio, Villa Sandi, 2007.  If you enjoy a Pinot Grigio, you will enjoy this one.  However, from there on we were in Alberto’s hands and I have often found that this is the best way to handle an Italian meal as nobody knows what’s best that evening more than the chef himself.

Don’t get me wrong, there is a very nice printed menu, and what’s more, Alberto carries an iPad with photographs of the dishes (he does his own photography, by the way) for those unsure of what “Linguine ai frutti di mare con pomodora leggero” might be, for example.

We began with antipasti, enjoying a selection of palate teasers, including the Australian artichokes, and Alberto’s endive salad via Belgium with celery, apple, orange, grapes and honey coated walnuts (B. 460), and all the usual hams, plus scallops and prawns.

Antipasti was followed by a soup, a pumpkin cream poured at the table around a small ‘pie’ filled with leek and potato, spinach and ricotta cheese (B. 220).  What a wonderful way to present a humble soup!  And a great flavor as well.

We changed to a red wine, a Barbera Batosiolo d’Alba 2006 to prepare ourselves for the main course which was a ‘Rib Set’ featuring Australian beef.  With this dish, Alberto added three different salts - a herbal, a pink Himalayan and a black Cypress salt.  The meat just fell apart and would have to be a meat-eaters concept of heaven.

But Chef Alberto was not finished with us yet.  There was the “Formaggi misti” (B. 750) to come - an assortment of Italian gourmet cheeses with homemade walnut bread and honey.  Quite honestly, the visit to Acqua was worth it for this dish alone.  Some very different cheeses and simply delicious.

Acqua, under Alberto, will become one of the “in” places to dine.  The ambience is relaxed, the service excellent, and Alberto’s dishes were all first class.  Book your seats for the Centara Mirage’s Italian Job.  You will not be disappointed!  You have my guarantee.

Acqua Italian Restaurant, Centara Grand Mirage Beach Resort Pattaya, 277 M5 (go down Naklua Soi 18 and turn right at the bottom), open six days (closed Mondays), 6 p.m. until 11.30 p.m., telephone 038 301 234, www.centarahotelsresorts.com, secure parking in the resort car parks.

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