Monday, 27 May 2013

Mezzo, Salmesbury, Lancashire

Mezzo Italian Restaurant & Bar
Preston New Road

YAFI, as Manchester Confidential would say (see the Guardian on Britain's obsession with Italian restaurants here).  Yet another identikit Britalian pizza pasta joint, I'd say.  Of course, this is what a lot of customers want, and you can't blame restaurateurs for responding: they're in it to make money, not act as charitable foundations for foodies.

A lot of money has obviously been spent doing up what had been a grotty Italian (itself converted from a roadside pub) that had closed down some time ago.  The money's resulted in a lot of bling, that I just find tacky, and formulaic.  Blue neon signs outside, black ash tables, paper napkins in glasses, open kitchen, desserts ready made and plated in a glass fronted fridge, grissini in plastic packs on the table. Grissini were novel in 1973, but by about 1978 most people had realised that these crisped up bits of cardboard had no merit whatsoever.

Mezzo's dining room
We went for lunch, without booking.  The restaurant was empty when we arrived (two other tables, a two and a four, arrived after us).  Service seemed irritated to have to be there.  We were seated on what pretty much seemed to be the nearest table to the entrance, by the waiters' station.  A pretty duff table by any measure, and not helped by having a wall-to-ceiling wine display case towering over us, which was both claustrophobic and also hid us from the waiters.

Plastic laminated menus were brought, and the aperitif order taken: Aperol Spritz was a very good example. When a waiter came to take orders, we asked if there were any specials on today.  He looked surprised at the request, but went away and brought us a paper specials menu.  Sorry, but why not give customers the specials menu without them having to ask for it?

The menu is part standard Britalian (spaghetti carbonara, penne arrabiata, pizza, veal escalope with mushrooms in cream sauce, bruschetta, stuffed mushrooms), and part blast-from-the-past (salmon and prawns with marie rose sauce, steak with peppercorn sauce, scampi thermidor, sole in pernod and cream sauce, duck with orange sauce, and of course there's a version of Chicken Kiev), all wrapped up in Italian names.  I have to say, I'm much more a fan of the latter than the former: these old seventies classics can still be highly enjoyable dishes when done well.

We asked for some bresaola to start with to share, to be followed by calamari fritti and verdure fritte (deep fried vegetables with some garlic mayonnaise). All three came together, which meant moving most other things off the table to fit them on. To be fair, both calamari and veg fritters came on long plates, with the food piled up at one end, so we'd still have had to move side plates and glasses to accommodate the size of the plates on the small table.  Surely it's a simple basic calculation all restaurateurs should be able to make: will the plate fit on the table?  It's not even as though a plate that size was necessary.
Calamari in the distance, bresaola in the middle, and deep fried vegetables in the foreground
Note our side plates have had to be moved to the centre of the table so the rectangular plates would fit.

The bresaola was fine, but didn't strike me as anything special. Calamari were good if similarly undistinguished, though looking at that picture above, it strikes me that you don't get a great deal of squid for £7.
The vegetable fritters would probably have been better if they'd not all been chucked in the fryer together, and so came all pretty much in one clump.

Sirloin steak tagliata was pretty good. You have to admire Italian restaurants for turning slicing a grilled steak and sprinkling a bit of olive oil on it into a dish.

Scampi thermidor
My scampi thermidor (or thermador, as the menu had it) was actually very good and the real star of the whole meal. Beautiful langoustines, very gently cooked in a nice sauce that didn't overpower the scampi.

We didn't have desserts largely due to them being utterly uninspiring, but also because they seemed to be all pre-portioned and pre-plated in a fridge between the kitchen pass and where we were sat.

We had espresso and a macchiato, both of which were very good.  So good that we ordered second coffees.  Why on earth would the waiter bring a second pot of sugar sachets?  Why would he put the new sugar pot on the table next to the one that was already there? Come on: wake up! If we'd had a third espresso, would we have got a third pot of sugar?
A lot of sugar for two coffees. Always useful to have the salt and pepper for the coffee too...

The wine list does that Britalian thing of pretty much listing only the DOC (or other designation), with no vintages or producers: the only producers mentioned are those of the champagnes.  Why do so many such places do this? I don't know about you, but it makes me feel like they have a really low opinion of their customers: "you don't need to know details, you won't understand things like vintages and producers." I suppose, as most of it is under £25 a bottle here, there's not likely to be much of any note or interest.

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