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November 12, 2009

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'Italian Mama' takes Giovanni's helm

EVERYONE calls her the "Italian Mama," the woman behind the new menu at fine dining restaurant Giovanni's in the Sheraton Shanghai Hongqiao Hotel.

In fact, Simonetta Garelli does cook like mama - her food is tasty, simple and the flavors are instantly recognizable.

If it were not for the 27th-floor views, fine cutlery, immaculate presentation and impeccable service, you might think you were dining in a cozy Italian villa - a sign of good, honest food.

Dish No. 1 is the salmon confit, a juicy cube of salmon cooked lightly at just 55 degrees Celsius with fennel and orange. This dish really does melt in your mouth, and being slowly cooked brings out the flavors of the fish. It is accompanied by a slice of dehydrated orange, but I think it would have looked better and added zest to have the salmon partnered with a slice or two of fresh orange.

Next up is wild boar with pasta. This is a good hearty dish, with strong tomato flavors, however, I do find the boar quite dry. This dish definitely fills a void if you are hungry, but I was expecting something more, something a little juicier and more tender, so this would not be high on my list.

The sight of the seared tuna coming up next had me licking my lips. I am a big fresh tuna fan and this dish doesn't disappoint. It is very succulent and had a nice charred flavor, bringing back memories of summer barbecues.

The vanilla and cinnamon cod gets a "D'" - that's "D" for delissimo. This is easily my favorite and has me thinking about it for days afterward. I normally like to keep my cod as simple as possible and steer clear of flavors that may distract from its natural taste, but this is just delectable. The crust coating of the cod is light and crunchy, the vanilla sauce creamy but subtle and the cod itself is lovely and fleshy.

Finally, the Milanese-style pork chop has me licking my chops. It is just another example of good, honest Italian cooking - hot, tasty and meaty.

Garelli likes to fuse Italian and Chinese food, using Oriental vegetables and herbs like bok choy and lemon grass as an alternative.

In Italy, the chop is commonly veal, but mamma knows the Chinese love their pork so she created this.

Last but not least, a selection of true Italian desserts - tiramisu with homemade ice cream, cheesecake, double chocolate royal and ice vanilla souffl??.

I tucked in and demolished everything that the "Italian Mama" put in front of me, but surprisingly I still walked away feeling light, not bloated.

The food, wine and people were a tribute to all good things Italian, although I did question the music taste ... err, Celine Dion? Perhaps some Pavarotti, who hails from Garelli's hometown of Modena in northern Italy, would have been nice.

This is the perfect place for a quick light business lunch or a long, relaxed break from the office with friends.

The set menu changes weekly and prices range from 88 yuan (US$13) for two courses to 128 yuan for three courses and 148 yuan for four courses, with a 15-percent surcharge.

Address: 27/F, 5 Zunyi Rd

Tel: 6275-8888 ext 4999


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