Who said anything about a downturn? Large restaurants are opening up at the rate of one a week. This week, it is the turn of Italia, a brand of The Park Hotel, in whose Bangalore unit Italia was born. The Delhi avatar exists in the DLF Mall. It is so new that (free) parking is no hassle at all, but you do have to keep your eyes peeled for the exact location of the restaurant.
Italia has three moods within it. The formal one has gold accents and smoky mirrors; the casual all-day diner is cheerful and informal, and has a separate menu to boot; and the third is out of doors, on the terrace and overlooks the Ridge. What distinguishes the food here from anywhere else is the note of classicism. While we are still far from being able to boast of a regional Italian restaurant, you do find regional specialities that would be hard to find outside their birth-place in Italy.
Frito misto of seafood with horseradish sauce (Rs 495) is an Italian home-style classic presented in Italia in an altogether sophisticated version: small, bite-sized pieces of fish, squid and prawns napped with an assertive sauce. Baked asparagus with fontina and parmesan crust (Rs 395) is the sort of no-fuss classic Italian dish that defines Italia’s approach to Italian food. Contrary to popular imagination, there are no flowing sauces and plethora of tomatoes and cheese; sauces merely highlight the main ingredient without drowning them. It is this that distinguishes Italia.
Pinched agnolotti of lamb with roast jus (Rs 425) is a close cousin of tortelli, tortellini and/or ravioli. And why, pray, is it pinched? My theory is that it refers to the way the sides of the squares are closed.
Be that as it may, the lamb jus is rich and full of flavour. However, if you want the most homely pasta dish from the very south of Italy, go for little ears from Puglia with broccoli, garlic and chilli (Rs 425). The quintessential home-style dish is hardly seen outside its home region. Orechiette, as little ears are called, are dressed with broccoli or turnip greens and has no sauce. Italia manages to make even this dish fit for an up-market restaurant.
The all-day dining has a pizza and calzone menu that features thin crust pizzas, of which the most novel is pizza with Parma ham and onions (Rs 575). Frankly, I balked at the price as much as at the fact that it has neither a tomato base nor cheese, but it seems to be hugely popular with other diners. What I did like was the salame milano, egg, tomato and mozzarella calzoncino (Rs 425) that was a folded-over pizza with a tasty filling.