Get a taste of authentic Italian fare at Festa Italiana in Mezzo, Avenue Regent

The rest-o-bar located on the ground floor of the Avenue Regent hotel is called ‘Mezzo’, evoking thoughts of operas and soprano singing. More than a closed off enclosure that separates its visitors from the outside world, Mezzo is a large sunken alcove off the main lobby with a small bar on one side and a spacious seating area as well as an open section outside. A large sign on the wall that separates it from the lobby proclaims the ongoing ‘Festa Italiana’, an Italian food festival that is underway there.

The festival aims to provide a comprehensive taste of Italian cuisine beyond the usual tastes from Tuscany that food lovers in the city may be accustomed to. “This is a popular hangout for youngsters and we always try and keep the menu interesting for our patrons. They are also game for a change once in a while and that is what we aim to give them with this festival,” says Murali S., the food and beverage manager at the hotel.

Among the starters is the interesting combination of bacon wrapped prunes, which has prunes wrapped with strips of bacon, sautéed with garlic and herbs and grilled. The sweet prunes are wonderfully offset by the taste of bacon, leaving a lingering aftertaste that serves as preparation for what is to follow.

Executive Sous Chef M.V. Benny says that ubiquitous Italian dishes like pasta and risotto have also been popular favourites among those who have visited Mezzo in the past few days. There are also a variety of wines available, with white or red wines complementing each item on the rather expansive menu. The menu also serves as a guide to those less accustomed to wines, offering a tip on what wine to pair each dish with.

Foodies can work their way through shrimp Caesar salad or spinach and roast garlic salad and on to crunchier fare such as the chicken tenders, which is chicken breast soaked in curd, seasoned with salt and pepper, dusted with chunks of Japanese Panko bread and paprika powder and then deep fried. Chicken tenders are also accompanied by mustard mayonnaise dips. To the fast food fuelled youngsters of today, the chicken tenders may come across as standard fare, but it is the sauce that adds a whole new dimension to the experience, providing a welcoming change in flavour.

The main course menu works its way from the shallow ocean and into the Italian mainland, ranging from grilled Basa to chicken Parmiggiana and all the way to Venecian Steak.

Those who choose to visit Mezzo can also enjoy the lilting strains of acoustic piano in the background, as Beatles classics like ‘Let it be’ and Celine Dion’s ‘My heart will go on’ may be heard.

The warm ambience, complemented by the music and the comfortable tables and chairs scattered across the restaurant floor, can be enjoyed while tucking into the soft Basa fish, which is a fillet of Basa marinated with salt and pepper, with a dash of vodka and cream sauce and featuring sautéed spinach and herbs garnished on top.

Benny is upbeat about the reaction that the festival has been getting, “We always knew that authentic Italian food is not easy to come by within the city, and that is why we came up with the idea of this food festival. Now you don’t have to go to Italy to have Italian food!” he says with a smile. If the spread that graces the page of the festival menu is anything to go by, he may well be right.

Festa Italiana is on for dinner between 7 and 11 p.m. till June 23.

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