Promising Italian is let down by slow service and hastily prepared food
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Time Out Says

Festival City is a long, long way from where I live. Of course, this little nugget of information matters not in the least to you, but it helps to set the scene for my visit to MezzaLuna one balmy October evening. You see, it took me a long time to get there and by the time my date and I arrived I was hungry, perhaps a little impatient, and more than ready for some hearty Italian fare.

I was encouraged by the restaurant’s appearance – high ceilings, an open kitchen, dark wood finishing, low-hanging lamps and large-scale images of choice Italian ingredients and landmarks dotted throughout. I was also encouraged by the venue’s healthy turnout. Late as it was on a Wednesday evening, there were a number of diners scattered throughout the restaurant – the majority were sat around low-slung coffee tables in the centre of the dining area, while a few others occupied taller tables elsewhere. What was strange, however, was the absence of staff – there was no one to greet and seat us, and no one manning the kitchen.

MezzaLuna first came to my attention when a colleague recommended the breakfast, so the lack of staff made me begin to wonder if it was open in the evenings at all. However, the appearance of a smiling waiter put my mind to rest and we took our seats.

Stomach rumbling, I was keen to kick-start proceedings and promptly ordered a classic antipasto starter – a selection of cheeses, parma ham and salami – while my date chose the polpo con le patate (octopus and potato salad). There was still no sign of the chefs, but my immediate concern was the absence of olive oil and balsamic vinegar on our table. A minor worry, but telling nonetheless. The waiter had once again disappeared (to find the chef, maybe?), so we ended up having to fetch the bottle ourselves.

My hunger (and thus my restlessness) had been temporarily abated by bread and lashings of balsamic, and my spirits were further lifted when I saw the chefs had emerged from their hiding place and were busying themselves in the kitchen. MezzaLuna appeared to have sparked to life, but my hopes of speedy service were dashed when the dishes I’d hoped were ours passed us on their way to another table – a table that had obviously been occupied before we arrived. Not a good sign.

Eventually, the waiter arrived with my date’s polpo con le patate but, to my horror, without my antipasto. Though I was offered a sincere apology, I wasn’t given much of a reason why our starters were arriving at different times, nor why a dish comprising cold meat and cheese was taking so long to prepare. I gloomily looked on as my date devoured her polpo con le patate – my only consolation being that the dish was a little disappointing. The fleshy pieces of octopus were tasty enough, though the potatoes were starchy and the salad was limp and tasteless.

The waiter’s sense of timing was verging on comedic when he arrived with my starter the moment my date had finished hers. What’s more, as if to mock my hunger, it was enormous (somewhat feebly, the waiter explained that this was why it took so long to arrive). I protested – surely he should have warned me that this was a dish big enough to feed a small Italian village? He simply laughed and left me to my glutton’s feast. Enormity aside, the dish was actually very good – the pungent blue cheese, soft slices of brie and parma ham wrapped around glistening melon chunks were all invigoratingly fresh, and though I never could have finished it by myself, I was able to stow half of it in a doggy bag.

We were subjected to a similar wait for the main course and, once again, I was left awestruck by the size of my steamed sea bass (not recommended after such a generously portioned first course). My date fared better with a more sensibly sized garganelli salsiccia, porcini provola de finochietto selvatico (garganelli sausage, wild mushrooms and provolone pasta). While the sea bass was expertly prepared on a bed of nicely salted spinach, there was no ambition in the dish – nothing to make it more than just well-cooked fish. For Dhs95, I’d expect more. My date’s dish packed a real punch thanks to the rich garganelli sausage, though pasta itself was disappointingly dry – on the verge of being brittle.

Perhaps the fact that MezzaLuna is situated at the foot of a serviced apartment block has dulled the restaurant’s edge. Granted, we arrived late, but if a restaurant is open for business it should be ready for custom, which MezzaLuna clearly wasn’t. I’d imagine breakfast and lunch here to be a wildly different experience, but dinner certainly isn’t worth the long, long journey to Festival City.

The bill (for two)
1x Polpo con le patate Dhs45
1x Antipasto Dhs60
1x Sea bass Dhs95
1x Garganelli pasta Dhs70
Total (excluding service) Dhs270

By Oliver Robinson  | 19 Oct 2010

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