A trip to Masso shows Liz O’Reilly the importance of high-quality ingredients coupled with imagination.
I have always loved Masso but I must confess I have not ventured to that corner of Adliya since Covid sent us all running for the safety of our homes. So, I am interested to see what has changed and what’s stayed the same.
The Provençale-style interiors are as welcoming as ever, crisp linens and sparkling glasses and silverware let you know that you are in a high-end establishment while outside a newish area resembles an Italian market street with fairy lights adding to the ambience as guest chatter and laughter fills the air.
At our table, home-baked focaccia with sundried tomatoes, bread buns with olive butter swirls and grissini all served with a sundried tomato paste set the scene for the evening. Each mouthful of bread tastes better than the last and we have to stop ourselves over indulging, mindful of the feast to follow.
The first of the ‘Small Bites’ to the table is Smoked Short-Rib Croquettes with Black Truffle Dip. These have a crispy coating and the meat is meltin-the-mouth tender. The truffle flavour is gentle, not overpowering, and perfectly complements the almost gamey richness of the beef.
Mushroom Arancini is the first standout for me on a menu which looks set to offer a whole range of excellence. The crunchy exterior of the rice balls yields to a beautifully comforting interior of mushroomy, truffley goodness topped by mushroom puree and embraced in the hug of a cheesy sauce. The perfect combination of flavours and textures, I could easily eat the whole portion myself but these dishes are made for sharing and my dining companion is equally impressed.
Up next, the Aubergine Salad makes an interesting appearance encased in a domed rye flour cracker decorated with daubs of goat cheese mousse, sun-dried tomatoes and mint leaves. General Manager Enrico gleefully demolishes the dome at the table to expose the goodness below. The aubergine caviar, so familiar in this part of the world, smokily roasted and mixed with olive oil and the oh-so-important aromatics that impart its distinctive flavour, is accompanied by a delicious mix of edamame, green beans, sugar snaps, goat cheese crumble and sesame dressing.
It would not be an exaggeration to say that the freshness and bursting flavours of the vegetables is one of the things that puts Masso in a class enjoyed by just a few restaurants on the island. Executive Chef Steeven Gilles informs us that the vegetables are all imported from Europe and, in fact, virtually all his ingredients are sourced overseas to ensure that outstanding quality.
The one notable exception is a dish that is a complete revelation to both myself and my dining companion – an avowed foodie. It’s Creamy Burrata with marinated cherry tomatoes, tomato sorbet and basil oil. And the big difference here is that this is actually Bahraini burrata, made in the Kingdom from a herd farmed in Zallaq. I have to confess that I didn’t know this deliciousness even existed. Ridiculously creamy with a light, buttery flavour, the outside has a delicate firmness while the inside veritably oozes and, without wishing to offend, my dining companion describes it as ‘an almost religious experience’. I don’t think I need to say more!
Soon Enrico is back at our table with an enormous baked seabass which smells absolutely divine. Ever the showman, he makes a performance of rolling back the skin in one single flourish and then expertly debones it at the table before serving us the delicate flesh. Accompanied by an exceptional sauce of basil, saffron, rocket and butter, I have seldom eaten something so simple and at the same time so deeply satisfying. The fish is cooked to perfection, the flesh firm but yielding and the sauce is so expertly judged that there is absolutely no need for further seasoning, which for me is very unusual.
Alongside the fish, we are served Truffle and Mushroom Tortellini and I am in a small corner of heaven as I sample the al dente pasta drenched in a delicate mushroom cream and basil oil. If ever two flavours were the perfect combination, these are it. The truffle lends the dish a very considered sense of luxury and I am sorry that I do not have space for more than a few of these delicious small parcels – each a complete gastronomic journey in itself. We are spoilt for choice on the desserts and opt to share the one dish that, if it’s on the menu, is always my first choice. Crème Brulee is one of those concoctions that, alone, can test the calibre of the cook. Get it wrong and the cream separates but get it right and it is oh so very, very good. Unsurprisingly, as with absolutely everything else we have eaten this evening, Chef Paul Gardin, Masso Executive Pastry Chef’s version of this dish is spot on. The vanilla subtle but making its presence felt, the burnt sugar topping crunchy and sweet. Yes, we are already full and planning just a spoonful each… famous last words.
The food at Masso silenced two women who had not seen each other in months. A higher accolade, I cannot give. I strongly recommend that you try it for yourself.