The trouble with reviewing Italian restaurants in the city is that after you’ve made your way to Diva, none of the others even begin to match up. It is, quite simply, the finest around. It’s a fine dining restaurant, so if you’re in the mood for just a pizza, you’ll be better off elsewhere: though Diva does do pizza (simply because of market forces), it’s the last thing on the menu that you should try. Their first and second plates (primi and secondi piatti) are fabulous, there are plenty of intelligent choices for vegetarians, and the desserts are divine. It’s not for daily dining, unless you have deep pockets. A meal for two here is liable to cost upwards of Rs 2,000, but it’s money well-spent, particularly during the truffle season, when fresh white truffles are flown down from Alba twice a week. M 8A, M Block Market, Greater Kailash II, 29215673, 41637858.
Another fine dining option is San Gimignano at The Imperial, where Chef Ravi Saxena has been going from strength to strength. He actually gets better every year. Pizzas here are a good option, but the pastas in creamy sauces (spaghetti with cherry tomatoes and fresh ricotta being the best) and the main courses are among the best you’ll get in the city. They’re the lone Italian regional restaurant in this neck of the woods, specializing in Tuscan fare: pigeon and rabbit are regularly featured on the menu. If you’re dining there during the day, opt for the outdoor seating, complete with fountain and pergola – it’s the nearest thing to being in Tuscany. They really do sweat the small stuff. The bread basket is choc-full with a variety of breads, grissini and ciabatta. Indoors too, the mood is cosy, intimate and elegant, all at once. Expect to pay Rs 1200 a head. Call: 23341234
Travertino at The Oberoi has the distinction of being the most expensive Italian restaurant in the city, but there’s a reason for this. Chef Tommaso Maddalena specializes in seafood – a pricey proposition in our land-locked city. You can do a whole meal around seafood – in fact it’s a good idea to do just that. Ravioli with spiny lobster in mixed herbs sauce is a good example of the chef’s talent: traditional Italian, with his own creative touch. A large selection of Italian wines complements the meal perfectly. They usually have a cheese platter featuring farmhouse cheeses from around Italy. You’d be hard-pressed to find such a range anywhere in the world. All the cheeses are made traditionally on small farms around Italy: no supermarket products here. A meal for one costs Rs 3,000, but it is possible to order carefully for a bit less than that. Call: 24363030
West View at the Maurya Sheraton has a grand range of antipasti. There is usually a whole wheel of Parmesan, a sprinkling of cold meats (the genuine Italian stuff), a variety of olives and an imaginative range of salads. Besides this, their grills feature premium meats. Call: 26112233
At the other end of the scale are the trattoria. Flavors at Moolchand is the best known of them. The Italian owner is clear about his priorities: he aims for volumes and is not above Indianizing some dishes. On the whole, the quality here has improved over the years, and let’s face it, the place is packed seven days a week. Look out for the bruschettas, particularly those with four cheeses and smoked chicken. 52 C Moolchand Flyover Complex, Defence Colony. 41550367, 24645644.
Several notches above is The Big Chill, more famous for its shakes, home-made ice-cream and desserts. Their pastas tend to get short-changed in the bargain, but they’re excellent. So too are their pizzas. F 38, East of Kailash, 26481030, 26481020, 68 A, Khan Market, 41757588, 41757599. Another outlet is expected to open shortly at 35 Middle Lane, Khan Market. 41757533, 41757544. The other trattorio is Italic. It’s a good idea to treat it as a pizzeria – we’ve heard conflicting reports about their primi piatti and main course grills. Like Flavors, Italic sells alcohol, but restricts itself to beer and wine only. C 25, C Block Market, Vasant Vihar, 41663056 and 3rd floor, MGF Mall, Gurgaon. 95124-4016631.
The most famous of all the trattoria is La Piazza, at Hyatt Regency Delhi. Actually, it’s a unique mix between a fine dining restaurant and a trattorio. The antipasti here is superb: don’t miss the salume platter, filled to capacity with real Italian hams and salamis. There’s a lunch-time antipasti buffet which is enormously popular. A favourite of the smart set, and the prices won’t break the bank either: Rs 1,200 per person. Call: 26791234.
Spago, at the Kasbah complex is a cool place to do lunch. The menu is full of old-fashioned classics: pollo valdostana and prosciutto melone, but the food is tasty, if a trifle Indianized, and the service personalized. Expect to pay Rs 600 per head. N 2, Greater Kailash I, 41635000
Olive and Azzuro, at 6-8, One Style Mile 26642552 and 3 Community Centre, Saket 41664274 respectively, are both Mediterranean restaurants, with a sprinkling of Italian dishes. Both do pizzas, and while Azzuro is a more serious joint, Olive wins with its ambience. Happily, the food here has improved in the last three months. Little Italy stands alone in the capital for being a vegetarian restaurant serving Italian food. Not surprisingly, every concession is made for the Indian palate: pasta dishes are awash with béchamel sauce and aubergine and mushrooms are the great kitchen stand-by. 28A Defence Colony Market 41554991
Italia at The Radisson, 26779191, Italiano in Nathupur, Gurgaon 95124-4062479, and Tonino, 10 MG Road 26801588, 26802633, would do well to concentrate harder on their food. Italiano caters to the call-centre crowd, and the short-cuts they take make that very apparent. Italia (formerly Italianni’s) has snapped their agreement with the Carlsson International chain. The evening we ate there, all of us were ill. To be fair, maybe the hotel will come into its own once the construction on the road outside is over. Tonino’s has always had a problem with consistency: conflicting reports bear that out. The interiors are pleasant enough, though. Perhaps one should stick to their pizzas and nothing else.
Besides these, you’ll always get a pizza or pasta at any restaurant that serves multi-cuisine. Be warned though – they’re strictly for the undiscerning palate.