At Villa 39, the new Italian restaurant that opened this week in Colaba, the interiors are strikingly different from any other Bombay restaurant that I’ve been to. Everything is white, from the walls, seating, and grand carved mirror frames to the fresh flower arrangement spread on the ledge behind our table. Wooden pillars, painted silver, a glittering chandelier and silver cushions on the bench seating add a touch of Indian bling, and the overall effect is of entering an urbane traveler’s luxurious Bombay home.
The menu does its best to emulate the atmosphere, offering specialties like burrata, an Italian cheese made from mozzarella and cream, and a gnochhi with sundried tomato in a Gorgonzola cream sauce. But while painstaking detail was paid to the decor, it is obvious that such lavish attention wasn’t applied to the food.
Indian food relies heavily on spices for flavor; Italian food, on the other hand, is more about the simple but immaculate preparation of excellent ingredients. We ordered a Caprese salad, the Italian standard of tomato, mozzarella and basil, but at Villa 39, the tomato was watery, lacking the sweet tartness to offset the milky mozzarella, and the pesto that topped the dish instead of the basil barely tasted green. The Insalata de Villa, a salad composed of rocket lettuce, iceberg, walnuts, apples, prunes and shavings of pecorino in a tangy mustard dressing, had the elements down but the lettuce was limp. Lifeless lettuce takes the enjoyment out of any salad, and I found myself craving Moshe’s uncomplicated, but unfailingly fresh pear and rocket salad. Another salad of paper thin slices of beet and Gorgonzola with rocket was flecked with soft pine nuts which we couldn’t help but notice tasted stale. The mushroom appetizer, bound by melted cheese, was unremarkable, and the creamy Burrata was unfortunately out of stock.
I ordered the Eggplant Parmesan next and had a difficult time discerning the taste of the tomato sauce from the overwhelming amount of melted cheese- which didn’t taste like Parmesan- that smothered my dish. The gnocchi with sundried tomato in Gorgonzola cream sauce that Hrishikesh ordered was more like gnocchi swimming in bland cream with a few sprinkles of Gorgonzola. However, my mother-in-law’s roasted vegetables- red and yellow peppers, asparagus and broccoli- were juicy and well seasoned with olive oil, salt and pepper. And my father-in-law’s Mama Rosa, a penne in sundried tomato cream sauce, was equally tasty, even if it didn’t sound as sophisticated as some of the other items on the menu.
The tiramisu was fluffy and delicious; I thought it was one of the best I’ve had in the city. My sister-in-law said that the chocolate fondant cake with its runny chocolate interior didn’t compare to the Lindt fondant cake at Corleone, another Italian restaurant in south Bombay. And the chocolate ice cream we ordered was dark but syrupy, nothing like Trattoria’s excellent bitter chocolate ice cream.
Our service was slow, but that’s probably just a new restaurant working out its kinks. Villa 39 has the distinction of being South Bombay’s only standalone Italian restaurant (as in, not housed in a hotel or a mall) and it has some basics down. However, if Villa 39 wants its food to live up to the cosmopolitan aspirations of its decor, the kitchen needs to ensure fresh ingredients and be more attentive when preparing the meals.