The tomato is done playing ketchup
By Dimithri Wijeisnghe
Photos Saman Abesiriwardana
On 7 March 2019, Executive Chef Robert Mujagic of Hilton’s IL PONTE revealed the Tomato themed line-up for his seasonal produce signature dishes.
Tomatoes are famously the subject of the fruit vs. vegetable debate; of course, that’s now been put to rest with them being botanically categorised as fruit – berries, to be precise. However, it is also considered a “culinary vegetable” because it has very low sugar content.
Regardless, Chef Mujagic has demolished those definitions with the use of tomato in a multitude of gorgeously creative ways and more importantly, by incorporating and producing absolutely delicious dishes through its use.
The Chef’s next seasonal produce signature dish in line is the pumpkin, which seems apt considering the recent struggles of pumpkin farmers where they experienced a bumper harvest this year causing them difficulties in marketing their produce, and would no doubt, be fantastic.
As for the tomato-themed extravaganza we were served, here’s the breakdown.
Frozen Virgin Mary
This was exactly what it sounds like – the virgin, non-alcoholic mocktail version of a Bloody Mary. It was incredible. While it may be a little too spicy for many people’s tastes, we felt that it was just right.
It was pretty much a daiquiri without the rum, sweetness, and all the things that make daiquiris nauseating; it was even served in a similar fashion. The horseradish was a nice touch, and it left us wanting more.
A simple heads up of what’s to come, the collective of appetisers were an absolute delight. You will not find any complaints on our part. They were fresh, crunchy, and absolutely appetising; in other words, they did their job.
This dish consisted of marinated bocconcini and baby tomato with aged peanut balsamic reduction, red pesto, and pistachio olive oil.
A simple Italian dish, it tasted quintessentially Italian and the flavours worked perfectly together. The tomato flavour wasn’t all too present, but was very welcome considering what was to come.
Tomato and zucchini fries
Fries dusted with ciabatta crumbs and sun-dried tomato dip.
This dish came as a surprise to those not familiar with the menu. The zucchini fries were great fun to bite into and tasted great. If we were to point out a downside, the dried tomato dip was quite close to a ketchup-y mayonnaise and wasn’t our favourite.
Smoked tomato soup
Smoked cherry tomato with curry leaves, buffalo mozzarella, cinnamon, cloves, black pepper, red chilli, and smoked salt sprinkle.
Soup truly isn’t as appreciated as it should be; it is fantastic and can be a whole meal in a few simple gulps. There’s an art to making soup and they clearly mastered it in this smoked tomato. There was a very prominent smoky flavour, however the sourness of the tomato was somewhat overpowering and did not let the curry leaves shine.
This dish consisted of homemade tomato gnocchi and tomato salsa with black olives, arugula, and buffalo mozzarella.
The gnocchi was as good as it could’ve been for what it’s supposed to be – soft dough dumplings. The tomato salsa it was in was lovely as it was not too strong and tasted fresh and blended in flawlessly with the dish.
Tomato and pumpkin risotto
This dish entailed sun-dried tomato, grilled pumpkin, onion, garlic, presto, and aged parmesan cheese with soft-boiled egg.
This one certainly was a split decision – not many of us loved the risotto. It was questionable at best; the rice wasn’t as tender as we’d have liked and the pumpkin felt out of place amongst all the tomato flavour. This one was a hard pass.
Roasted tomato pappardelle
The dish consisted of thick pasta with prawns and cherry tomato ragout with onion, garlic, and herbs.
Personally, I was never a fan of thick pasta as it just feels like discount lasagne, but this one wasn’t too bad. Since it was a mixed plate, there wasn’t too much of it and it wasn’t too heavy as pasta often tends to be.
Flourless dark chocolate and tomato cake
This dessert consisted of dark chocolate with baked tomato, olive oil, and icing sugar.
We were a little disappointed as we barely tasted tomato in the cake or the dish as a whole. In a way, that was probably a good thing, but we were curious to see how the natural tomato flavour infused into the dark chocolate flourless cake, so we were slightly disappointed. But the dish didn’t taste bad in any way.
The cake was soft and airy – surprising, considering it had no flour – the chocolate flavour was really potent, and the plating really blew us away; it was a beautiful piece of art on a plate. It was also topped with the creamiest mousse we’ve ever had.