Head chef Nikiforos Kamburopulo hails from Greece and is eagerly returning to basics with a “family style” menu that offers rustic Italian dishes with a Mediterranean twist in a comfortable, luxurious setting.
“The taste is very authentic with simplicity; it's traditional, just like what you can find in an old-fashioned Mama’s kitchen!” explained the former student of renowned French chef Mr Paul Bocuse. “This is just simple.”
The homemade ravioli stuffed with prawns and served with a saffron sauce and truffle oil (US$18) is a blend of flavours from near and far. Mr Kamburopulo is correct: the flavours are basic – but bold.
His bruschetta with homemade toasted bread, Inle Lake tomatoes, prosciutto and roasted bell peppers ($6) is another welcome change from elaborate Myanmar dishes with indiscernible flavours – and that’s exactly what Mr Kamburopulo is aiming for.
Mr Kamburopolo said his team of Nay Pyi Taw locals had limited to zero experience in the hospitality industry, but have come a long way since the restaurant's opening in October.
“When I first arrived, I understood it was a big job, however I was ready to face the challenges,” he said between courses, dressed in a chef's toque and crisp, white uniform with 'Nikos' stitched on it. “Now my team is ready.”
Ingredients are sourced locally, when possible, and necessities such as specialty olive oil may be acquired from abroad, he said. Mr Kamburopulo often uses cheese bought from Sharky’s, the restaurant, delicatessen and artisan food outlet in Yangon.
Business oscillates between bustling and barren at the Nay Pyi Taw hotel, owned by tycoon U Zaw Zaw’s diversified conglomerate Max Myanmar and operated by French hotel chain Accor.
Conferences and forums in the capital have brought big crowds since the fine-dining establishment opened but the hotel hopes to diversify its clientele in 2015, said Ms Nathalie Leung Shing, director of sales and marketing for The Lake Garden and the Yangon Novotel Max, due to open in February.
By offering activities such as cooking classes the hotel may evolve into a destination in and of itself, she said.
Mr Kamburopulo's menu boasts a red snapper with tapanade crust ($22), grilled lamb rack ($34), classic pizzas (from $9 to $16) and risottos ($14 to $18). The chef's favourite is the beef lasagne ($14), a specialty reminiscent of Greek moussaka, he said.
Marinated with mint and paired with coconut ice cream, the roasted pineapple prepared carpaccio-style ($5) is a light choice for desert after the filling main courses.
The impressive wine list includes varieties from Chile, Italy, Spain and France, including a 2008 Bordeaux cabernet sauvignon from Chateau Haut Bergey ($130).
“The product should be able to impress you by itself,” said Mr Kamburopulo, explaining his culinary motivation. “Simple cooking, simple taste, good products – and finish with a little wine!”