Flavours from this sunny Italian island is what Lawson Misquitta found at the newly renovated Fiamma Italian restaurant at Sofitel Bahrain Zallaq Thalassa Sea & Spa.
Stepping into the hotel lobby, my colleague and I were immediately met with a lively scene on account of a wedding ceremony to be held later that day at the property. However, we were there for another purpose, one that had us both quite upbeat. We were visiting the newly renovated contemporary Italian restaurant Fiamma, which now boasts an exciting new menu prepared by Sofitel’s Executive Chef Marco Terranova. The first to greet us on arrival, he was warm, enthusiastic and extremely passionate as he described his intention behind the new menu. Born and raised in Augusta, Sicily, Chef Marco outlined to us the carefully curated gastronomic experience that’s inspired by the colours and flavours of Sicily, as well as his influences from Spain, France and North Africa. He emphasised the importance of using the freshest seasonal ingredients to create delicious and authentic preparations and, in no time, had us quite enthralled.
The restaurant’s revamped interior now reflects a distinctive décor with tasteful and elegant details that exude the true essence of rustic Italy. Spread across the space were familiar Sicilian motifs such as authentic hand-painted Caltagirone ceramic plates and ceramic pinecones that are regarded as a symbol of wellness and good fortune.
Once seated we were served some focaccia bread that was beautifully golden-brown all over but soft and fluffy on the inside. As I scanned the menu, I also noticed that every dish had a specific suggested grape paring to enhance the dining experience, a nice touch.
The meal kicked off with the first round of antipasti that included the Carpaccio di Manzo and Tartare di Gamberoni. The carpaccio was thinly sliced beef tenderloin topped with a flavourful truffle vinaigrette, roasted oyster mushrooms and shavings of truffle pecorino – every morsel was a delight. Tartare di Gamberoni was a light and refreshing starter with prawns, a simple tomato confit, finely chopped shallots and garlic croutons that provided every bite with a terrific crunchy texture.
Next, was the Mare Su Terra, one of Chef Marco’s signature dishes. He wasn’t pulling any punches here as I was informed that the red mullet had been slow cooked at a very low temperature with caprino cheese imbuing the fish with an almost creamy flavour. It was then topped with thinly sliced carpaccio truffle that complemented the fish with its level of umami flavour. Accompanying that was a specially marinated, semi poached prawn that was roasted and then generously topped with caviar. The decadence didn’t end there as I was treated to the molecular gastronomic delight of lemon potato foam that was also part of this sensory masterpiece. The grand symphony of flavours left us absolutely impressed!
The final starter was the Polpette Alla Griglia – perfectly grilled, delicious, citrus-scented meatballs that came with a smooth and buttery purée of charcoal-roasted celery root and cauliflower that I couldn’t help but smother every bite with. The twist here was the thin slices of candied orange rind that when mixed into a bite completely elevated the experience. Truly genius!
Within minutes we were served some spectacular pastas, all of which we were told are prepared daily, in-house from scratch. The first being Norma, a traditional preparation with penne pasta cooked in a simple but deeply flavourful tomato sauce alongside fried eggplant and topped with grated ricotta salata. The next, Paccherri Al Limone, consisted of pasta tossed in an undeniably ravishing prawn bisque and finished with lemon scent.
I must admit, I happily doused the remaining focaccia bread with the sauce of this dish and guiltlessly enjoyed every bite. The final pasta offering was the gnocchi which was prepared to perfection and was one of the best I’ve tasted on the island.
This was followed by my personal favourite of the meal, the Tonno Alla Griglia – a tuna fillet grilled to medium rare perfection brushed with paprika oil that gave it a unique smoked flavour and a pinch of heat. It was then set upon a bed of savoury eggplant caponatina, topped with artisanal chips and served with a succulent dollop of buffalo mozzarella. Prepared flawlessly, this dish had my taste buds rejoicing.
The final main course was another special preparation by Chef Marco, the Pizzoli – a double layered parmesan-crusted pizza that is native to Sortino, a town in Sicily. This particular one was stuffed with mozzarella, olives, anchovies, semi-dried tomato sautéed in garlic, along with spinach. A first for my colleague and me, every single bite was a revelation to us.
For dessert, we had the Tiramisu which exceeded our expectations. From the subdued sweetness of the mascarpone and sabayon cream to the dreamy savoiardi coffee biscuits and the bitter cocoa powder that rounded everything off exquisitely, each spoonful was irresistible. We had to try the Trittico di Cannoli, a popular Sicilian pastry. This one had a decadent filling of ricotta cheese and chocolate chip and pistachio cream, topped with a tart raspberry ganache.
Chef Marco truly impressed us while living up to his promise of serving up a traditional but inspired culinary feast that’s rooted in his Sicilian homeland but also influenced through his personal life experiences from across the globe. As I left Fiamma, I was certain that I’d found a new favourite Italian spot on the island. With the charming new décor, excellent service and the wonderful food, I’m quite sure that it will be yours too.