When you enter Cicchetti By Mr Beans, located at a relatively less crowded section of Gurugram’s buzzing Cyber Hub, order the ‘smoking cranberry jalapeños cream cheese dome’ right away. As much as the progressive Italian restaurant’s subtle décor consisting of beige and muted yellows, the soft melody of a Dean Thomas number or a barcarolle playing in the background, and the fragrance of coffee have your senses encaptured, pay no mind, just yet, to anything but this dish. And when it is served, plated inside a glass dome that is lifted with a flourish to release the dry ice, you find a soft homemade cheese with a rich jalapeño flavour that paired with a cracker and cranberry jam becomes an addictive nibble.
Like me, this alone can win you over, but that would prove to be a disservice to the restaurant. Chef Neha Singh, who owns and runs the place along with Abhimanyu Singh, had travelled extensively enough in Italy to appreciate its finer nuances, which she has brought back to Gurgaon’s business hub. The ‘progressive’ bit here denotes Neha’s take on the cuisine, but even as it borrows from other cuisines, it is an attempt to introduce a flavour different from the cookie-cutter tomato-infested, oregano-overrun Italian that Delhi has been made used to. This means milder flavours and stronger secondary flavours, but it brings you perhaps the closest you can get to Italy without flying there.
And just as there are tapas or snacks in small portions in Spanish food, Italian cuisine has cicchettis served in bàcaris and osteries, which are old Venetian bars found in the canalled city’s alleys. Neha was enamoured by the name as much as the concept, so she has innovated a selection of cheeseboards (included a ‘make your own’ with cheeses like gruyère, emmental and chèvre), non-vegetarian and vegetarian cicchettis to show for it. Pair them with a Jacob’s Creek Chardonnay or follow them up with one of Mr Beans’ signature coffees, to elevate the experience.
I sat on a table adjacent to black-and-white portraits, underneath the fabric lights, as dish after dish was put to the test. First came the burrata (an Italian cheese with a salad consisting of asparagus, zucchini ribbons, tomato chutney and basic foam). As I bit into its melt-in-your-mouth exterior and it mixed with each of the salad’s ingredient, I found a wholesome start to the experience. The polenta roundels added a twist or three to the traditional Italian cornbread dish, as it came in those many variants: mushroom ragout (my favourite), spinach ricotta (a close second) and caponata (primarily eggplant and an even closer third). The Jack Daniels Spanish pork rib, however, completely changed the tone. Its smoked thyme goodness and rich flavour came right after dishes with milder profiles, displaying the range that a cicchetti allows. The goth aglio e olio in linguini that came next, with the ‘goth’ referring to the charcoal-infused black linguini, was presented like a painting with a final splash of saffron cream. It tasted as delicious as it looked.
The braised lamb shank was cooked to easily come off the bone and chewed easily—an achievement in fine meat-making. It left me with a smile as I made my way to the desserts, the signature chocolate and nut-fudge sausage (just shaped like one, of course) and classic vanilla bean and coconut panna cotta. While the former made an indulgent treat, the latter had the kind of consistency that made me forget that I am not a fan of coconut. It went from gelatinous to liquid as soon as it embraced my tongue.
Just like that, Cicchetti By Mr Beans had left the simplicity of its décor and its initial dishes behind and some flavoursome dishes had taken their place. This was a glimmer into the potential and diversity of real Italian food. The flavours may take you a bit to get used too—we cannot blame the Delhi foodie and the vast selection of American-disguised-as-Italian restaurants—but when you do, it is quite rewarding.
Cicchetti By Mr Beans is open everyday between 11am and 11.30pm.
Pocket pinch: ₹ 1,600 for two (exclusive of taxes)
Address: Building 10 A, Near HDFC Bank, Cyber Hub, DLF Cyber City, Gurgaon.
Contact: 91-124-4067318, mrbeans.in