Name: Mezzalira Ristorante
Address: Cnr London Circuit and West Row, Canberra City, 2601
Ph: 02 6230 0025
Owners: Pasquale, Joe, Dominic & Vincenzo Trimboli
Hours: Lunch: Monday-Friday. Dinner: Monday-Saturday.
Nice. It’s a particularly damning adjective. Generally it is used when there’s nothing more descriptive to say, when something is not bad, but nor is it exciting.
Nice is a song that is in that inoffensive singer/songwriter style. It sounds fine in the background but you don’t want to put it on your stereo.
Nice is a painting of cute, but not too cute, animals. It hangs on the wall and you glance at it when you walk past but you never really look at it straight on.
Nice is that guy at a party who is probably an accountant, or maybe an actuary. He is pleasant enough to talk to, but you don’t really care what he says. He has never taken a risk in his life, is totally unremarkable, and has no chance of being considered sexy. You don’t mind that he’s at the party, but if asked the next day you’d have no idea of his name.
And if nice was a meal it would be the degustation at Mezzalira Ristorante.
The degustation is meant to be a showcase of the best that a chef can offer, the peak of that restaurant’s output. It should be a collection of the most exciting dishes, even if they aren’t what everyone would order.
At the original and main restaurant of the Trimboli food empire, it felt more like they have picked the safest menu they possibly could. I know their philosophy is all about classic, simple Italian cuisine, but surely they could push the envelope out a little further than a mushroom risotto.
After some really quite good wood-fired bread and a glass of Victorian Prosecco, an opening course of pumpkin, ricotta and leek tortellini with sage butter is a perfect example of this safety. Sure, the pasta is cooked well, and the flavour combination is classic for a reason, but there was no spark. It could have been served in any run of the mill Italian restaurant around the country.
The absurdly long wait before the next course may have prejudiced me a little, but it was the dish that I was most anticipating, and the one that most disappointed me. Seared sea scallops with baccala matecato (creamed salt cod) and saffron syrup sounded like something I would adore, so when it came to the table as two slightly overcooked scallops on a decent but way too subtle pool of cod. It was a few average bites, nothing more.
A porcini and wild mushroom risotto is an Italian restaurant cliché, and as such needs to be perfect to make any impression. This didn’t. Suitably earthy, well cooked rice, and a reasonable level of creaminess, it was a serviceable risotto. But it’s on a degustation at what is meant to be one of the better restaurants in town, and I expect more.
The wonderful tuber that is the Jerusalem artichoke, and a strong, sharp salt crust saved a piece of beef from being completely boring. A side of horseradish cream that leant too much towards the ‘cream’ side of the title didn’t increase the thrill.
Dessert followed the trend with a decent caramelised lemon curd tart. It was well made, but not the best you’ll find, with a few raspberries tossed on the plate beside it. Good, not great.
There were some things that I did love, though, especially the focus on local wines, with some heroes of the Canberra region. I was especially excited to see some Eden Road Long Road Pinot Noir, which was much more interesting than the risotto.
Service was variable, with overlong gaps between the first, second and third courses, before the beef came out almost instantly. Everyone and everything looks professional and tidy, and make it an easy meal.
Mezzalira never gets past being just nice, which is not enough when you’re paying $85 before wine. It really is like our actuarial friend, standing in the corner, being inoffensive and forgettable.
Even while talking to him, you start thinking about how much you’d prefer to be speaking to his younger, sexier brother. He is louder, flashier, a little less refined, but so much more exciting. Everyone wants to be close to him, and everyone talks about him the next day.
And thankfully, he’s just down the road. His name is Italian & Sons.
I’d choose the brother every time.