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For an Italian bite in Delhi...

For the best of Italian food, don't go across to Janpath! Just drive down to Diva in South Delhi for some delicious Italian fare and a hostess who packs in genuine warmth as part of the package. SUMITRA SENAPATY finds the experience quite unforgettable... .

MY REMEDY for a bad day is a meal at Diva. There are better Italian restaurants and more decorative ones. But none of them makes me feel as cool as this place does, whether I'm sitting alone at a window table watching the world go or playing a game of scrabble with my partner. Often, that means cheese fondue served with crusty bread, sparkling-fresh Red Snapper fish, simply grilled and expertly filleted at the table. Sweet, head-on prawns, enhanced with herbs and olive oil, are always a treat, as is tender grilled chicken, threaded on skewers, dusted with breadcrumbs and brightened with lemon. The kitchen also turns out fine whole-wheat crepes, some lovely pasta and a dessert. Besides enjoying authentic Italian fare, you can browse through a collection of books and magazines at this café-restaurant. Located at Greater Kailash-II in South Delhi, Diva rubs shoulders with Nirula's, Chungwa, Pizza Hut, Barista and numerous other eateries, but is clearly ahead of the show. Dressed in off-white with a glass facade and low lighting, it comprises a 40-cover fine-dining restaurant on the ground floor and a 60-cover cafe upstairs. The cafe is open between 11-30 a.m. and 11-30 p.m., while the restaurant is open for lunch and dinner. Diva bustles with the unhurried charm of sunny, siesta-loving Italy and is well worth your dining time.

The lady in the chef's coat? She is the diva behind Diva -- Ritu Dalmia, chef and co-owner whose warm smile and determined spirit filters down to her staff. According to Ritu, a globetrotting, ardent food-lover, who likes to read everything from metaphysics to erotica, "Running a restaurant is like treating your guests for dinner -- you naturally want to prepare the freshest and best for them, that's what I do at Diva.'' Ritu offers a Sicilian slant on Italian cooking, coming up with a menu that is full of pleasant thrills. Mozzarella cheese and extra virgin olive oil are flown in from Naples, so we encourage you towards menu choices that feature them. The restaurant itself is pretty and comfortable -- dress casual chic, with a particularly good vibe later in the evening -- after 10 pm. For some reason, the staff doesn't tire, but is still ready to take care of your every wish, allowing you to linger as much as you like.

Begin with that basket of varied breads, making sure that crisp garlic toast is among them. Move on to antipasti with bruschetta, polenta, artichokes, fresh mozzarella, onions, smoked tuna fish, wafer thin Parma ham, and goodness knows what all else. Pastas at Diva are good food, and in particular is the fine Gnocchi finished in an aromatic mushroom sauce. The spinach ricotta and mushroom wrapped in pasta and poached, unusually light are popular, so also are Penne, Linguine and Tagliatelle. New Zealand's famous lamb chops and Red Snapper fish from Cochin are some of the other fast moving preparations at Diva. Wines, an integral part of Italian cuisine, are served at Diva, along with beer and other drinks. For a lighter meal, the Diva cafe upstairs offers an assortment of Lebanese, French, English and Italian snacks and soups. Recommended picks are the Mezze platters, Panini -- Italian grilled sandwiches with vegetarian-non-vegetarian fillings -- and Dinner Jackets -- wood baked jacket potato smothered with cheese with a choice of jalapenos, mushrooms, olive pate, sun dried tomato and pesto. Wafer thin Crepes similar to pancake, are surely 'must try' - they come with stuffing of ham and cheese, lemon and sugar or nutella and banana. The chilled avocado and cucumber soup is great to have during our lengthy summer months. Also check out Diva's fresh health juices, some of them are pretty interesting combinations like celery and grape, which sounds exotic and also tastes good to taste.

You can have breakfast too -- crispy waffles served with clotted cream and maple syrup or a fluffy cheese omelette or the traditional full English breakfast. By now you don't need a heavy dessert, but the fried chocolate triangles with Mango Stew can be checked out if you can handle it and the sorbet sampler if you can't. Recommendations: Pana Cotta Con frutti di bosca -- cooked cream in traditional Italian style with fresh berry sauce. Incidentally this is great for vegetarians, as it does not contain any egg component. You can round off your Italian gastronomical adventure with a cup of coffee at Diva -- Espresso, Cappuccino or filter coffee.

Take your pick and enjoy!

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