Jan 20, 2013

Italian cuisine in Islamabad, The Real Deal!

When I was approached to consult on a new restaurant concept in Islamabad, I immediately jumped at the opportunity! It was a life long dream to work and connect with the country of my parents origin, but to engage on the culinary level was even more exciting. The project lasted about 3 months and required me to create the most authentic Italian experience on this side of the globe.  However, to me it wasn't necessarily about just presenting good food, it was about raising the culinary bar on the standard of cuisine that is served in the region.  
I worked closely with the chefs to develop a menu that best represented Italian cuisine, but it was also balanced enough to appeal to the local pallet. There were many challenges along the way, and by the end of my time there we had the perfect formula that proved to be a winning combination for success. 
The first step was to come up with a menu for the launch party.  We gave ourselves a date of December 16th 2012 and had a couple weeks to perfect the style of the event as well as the food items being served.  Chef Imran, Chef Giulio, Chef Amin, and I all worked as a team, with everyone contributing in their own way for the best culinary experience Islamabad had ever seen.  We had everything from Caprese on a skewer to Bresaola on a crostini and of course the most delicious pizzas and pastas in town.   With a guest list of over 200 people, the Zigolini team prepared a feast for the anxiously awaiting patrons, who really did bring their appetites.
We sourced the best of local and imported ingredients, and made use of all possible resources including an artisan buffalo mozzarella cheese factory (Ciao Formaggio) in Islamabad producing some wonderful dairy products that are usually tricky to find in this country.  I also found another supplier for a fantastic local Goat's Cheese with which I created the salad below right, an almond crusted goat's cheese with marinated beet root, mixed greens, sliced red onions, and a balsamic reduction. Everything in this salad was sourced locally (minus the balsamic vinegar), and it proved to be a popular item with all the guests. 

A launch party just wouldn't be complete without a red carpet laden with media and models to meet and greet the many expected guests.  When Islamabad Marriott does an event, they do it in style.  There was no expense spared when it came to executing this high end soiree.  With the Italian consulate as the chief guest for the evening along with other diplomats and foreign dignitaries, it was a media frenzy.

A few more delicacies here are the home-made ricotta and herb stuffed tortellini with veal pancetta and cream sauce.  This was THE hit of the night as well as on the regular service menu.  The guests did not stop raving about these gorgeous little parcels of deliciousness, and the fact that they are available on the regular Zigolini menu made it even more exciting to receive the positive feedback!  That ensured the guests would be making  frequent trips back for more.....

Chef Amin and the rest of the Zigolini team managing the "real" brick oven and the constant stream of pizzas  made to keep the eager guests at bay.  Between Chef Giulio, Chef Imran and myself, we were able to perfect the pizza dough recipe with imported Italian flour, olive oil, yeast, and sea salt, fermented at room temperature for 10-12 hours, these pizzas had just the right consistency.
We couldn't have the perfcet Italian meal without the perfect Italian desserts.  Panna Cotta and Tiramisu made with imported cheese and cream were as authentic as it gets. The talented chef Prabhat (pictured above left) who's origins are Sri Lankan, is skilled in the art of European dessert making.  We worked out the exact proportion of gelatin to cream for the panna cotta and even topped each one with a touch of silver foil for an added touch of elegance.  The Tiramisu was made with whipped cream and mascarpone cheese layered between sweetened esspresso dipped ladyfingers (sans rum).  These gorgeous little dessert cups were topped with white and dark chocolate straws and chocolate covered amaretti cookies. 

The Zigolini launch was a success and I am proud to say that I was part of the process.  It could not have been done without the hard work of the Marriott Islamabad team.  The attention to detail is what made this event the talk of the town.  There are no other establishments in Pakistan that can produce this level of authentic cuisine, so I can safely say that I accomplished what it was I set out to do.  We have rasied the standard of cuisine in the region and now the Marriott can add another restaurant to it's already successful list of eateries in this landmark city.


  1. Good Wishes Saba! This is really wonderful... doing a project where you get connected to your roots as well:) I can understand the pride that you must be feeling. If I were to do something like this in Kolkata, I'll be roaring with pride!

  2. well done saba. u must be so proud. what is that yummy food in the white bowls :-)

  3. Thanks Ladies! It was a once in a lifetime experience, and I'm glad I was able to add value to a subject so close to my heart.

    Fazeela, The food in the white ramekins is home-made ricotta and herb tortellini with veal pancetta and cream sauce, they were VERY yummy:)

  4. Incredible. What I really admire you for is going that extra mile to incorporate locally sourced ingredients and supporting local suppliers. Kudos to you, and my this concept continue to rise in success and popularity!