Mezzalira Ristorante review

Seasonal globe artichoke risotto with stracchino cheese.
Seasonal globe artichoke risotto with stracchino cheese.  Photo: Elesa Kurtz

55 London Circuit Canberra, ACT 2601

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Opening hours Lunch Mon-Fri; Dinner Mon-Sat
Features Wheelchair access, Vegetarian friendly, Licensed, BYO, Accepts bookings
Prices Moderate (mains $20-$40)
Chef Federico Ferrario
Seats 100 inside, 40 outside
Payments Diner's Club, eftpos, Visa, Mastercard
Phone 02 6230 0025

It would be wrong to suggest a restaurant need never change. It is crucial, after all, to keep testing and tasting, adjusting and learning from new techniques and ingredients and the experiences and expectations of people doing the eating. If no one changed, we'd still be eating deep-fried camembert with raspberry sauce, and that over-sized rainbow ill-defined embroidered thing I used to call clothing, well that might still be in the repertoire. However, restaurants with the purity and clarity of Mezzalira change only with care, and that, in this case, is a very good thing.

Mezzalira hit on a menu that worked a few years ago – perhaps four or five years ago if memory serves – and it has stuck with the essence of it, leaving experimentation and more fleeting dishes to the specials board. This place is classic and elegant, like the bones of the Melbourne Building in which it holds a corner spot.

Don't get the wrong impression here, it's not elegant in a chandelier-and-brocade way, weighed and dulled by tradition. It's elegant in a sparkling modern way, with blond wood and leather furniture, classic Italian approaches in the food, and a decidedly upmarket tone.

Quail breast 'saltimbocca' with caramelised pear, grilled radicchio and vincotto.
Quail breast 'saltimbocca' with caramelised pear, grilled radicchio and vincotto. Photo: Elesa Kurtz

Quail breast saltimbocca is a couple of great pieces of meat, carefully boned, with one little wing bone poking out of the side of the prosciutto-wrapped parcel. A sage leaf is sandwiched with the quail, as with the classic Italian veal dish, and with it there is grilled radicchio, a bitter leaf, but here sweet with small squares of caramelised pear.

Also from the specials board comes globe artichoke risotto ($24 entree/$34 main). Globe artichokes are one of eating's most serious joys, so much work to make this flower edible and so good when you get it to that point. Its earthiness permeates the soupy risotto, which is delicious, kind of muddy and satisfying with lemon zest and mint to brighten it up, and lovely pieces of fried artichoke on top.

Mezzalira always seems to do the ultimate version of a dish. I remember feeling the same way about the vitello tonnato four years ago, that one a classic veal dish modernised and stripped to its essence with tuna mayonnaise, intense parsley, fried capers and anchovy. You get hooked on these dishes, although sadly vitello tonnato was not offered at our recent visit.

Tortellini di zucca: Pumpkin pasta parcels with burnt butter and crisp sage leaves.
Tortellini di zucca: Pumpkin pasta parcels with burnt butter and crisp sage leaves. Photo: Elesa Kurtz

And since I'm suggesting you eat dishes we didn't order tonight, I also draw your attention to sardines, with pinenuts, currants and vinegar, very simple and beautifully done, a favourite dish here and at Mezzalira's sister in Lonsdale Street, Italian and Sons.

That same pattern of classic dish done excellently is in the pumpkin and leek tortellini with burnt butter and buffalo ricotta ($24 entree/$34 main). The pumpkin pasta parcels are flavourful and fat, finished in a frypan for a slight crisp edge. The butter sauce is simple and not overly sweet, there's amaretti crumb for sweetness and large fried sage leaves. A combination of refined handling with satisfying and indulgent eating.

The beef fillet sounds fairly conventional in the description: salt and pepper crusted Rangers Valley beef fillet with potato and pancetta gratin, spinach puree and horseradish ($40). In the flesh, it's a small miracle. The meat is excellent, its crust aggressively seasoned with salt and pepper, the meat pink and tender, with the other parts of this dish served distinctively: a horseradish cream, a balsamic reduction, a pure spinach puree, a gratin that is perfectly crisp on top, with beautiful separation of the potato slices. The dish is well executed, simple and accomplished.

Tiramisu at Mezzalira Ristorante in Canberra. Photo Elesa Kurtz
Tiramisu at Mezzalira Ristorante in Canberra. Photo Elesa Kurtz Photo: Elesa Kurtz

Dessert tonight is less exciting. The tiramisu is simple, very strong, with thick custard on top of the sponge layers. It's rather cake-like on the sponge layers, albeit covered in the thick cream – a good fresh version.

The ricotta and chestnut honey panna cotta is rich and quite difficult to get through, the ricotta adding a cheesy texture which is unusual. It's served with deep-fried crostoli, but I'm not so fond of these.

Mezzalira's wine list is commanding and comprehensive, arranged in useful categories, such as "sangiovese of Italy and others" (no fewer than 19 sangioveses, one of them from Canberra, the rest from Italy), "super Tuscans of central Italy", "nebbiolo, barbaresco and barolo of Italy and others", "dolcetto and barbera of Italy and Australia", "native white varietals of Italy and abroad". The list chooses well from the best Canberra wines, and many of the categories include multiple vintages of key wines, notably Canberra's flagship Clonakilla shiraz viognier, where you'll find just about every vintage since 2005.

Mezzalira Ristorante head chef Federico Ferrario.
Mezzalira Ristorante head chef Federico Ferrario. Photo: Elesa Kurtz

I admire this in a wine list but really have no idea how you're meant to tackle it in drinking terms. Making things easy to manage, though, Mezzalira also offers a number of wines in 500ml carafes.

In sum, things seem largely in keeping with our last visit, with the specials board keeping us happy with new dishes, and the same precision in the execution of classic dishes, cooked with focus firmly on taste.

http://www.mezzalira.com.au