Rating: 14.5/20

  • Corner London Circuit and West Row, City, 6230 0025
  • www.mezzalira.com.au
  • Owners, the Trimboli family, chefs Pasquale Trimboli and Diego Arata
  • Open lunch Monday to Friday, dinner Monday to Saturday
  • Licensed and BYO, corkage $12 a bottle
  • Wheelchair accessible, disabled toilets
The interior of Mezzalira Restaurant in  London Circuit.
The interior of Mezzalira Restaurant in London Circuit. Photo: Richard Briggs

When Mezzalira opened its doors 15 years ago, it gave Canberra its first serious Italian fine diner.

With a real woodfired oven at its heart, it showed us there is no better way to start a meal than with straight-from-the oven focaccia, splashed with nothing more than good oil and salt.

Now woodfired ovens are on every street corner, pumping out food of varying quality, and much on the Canberra dining scene has changed, and owners the Trimboli brothers know longevity has its challenges.

Keeping the ideas coming and the vitality is no simple matter.

In 2012, they will move on a long-mooted renovation, but the institution will stay firmly on the fine dining side of the fence - leaving the bustle and hype to the family's latest and much more casual super-popular eatery, Italian and Sons.

Starting a meal in style here is easy, and Campari with fresh grapefruit ($9) or a Bellini (prosecco with white peach nectar, $14) are great ways to spark the appetite. The trout crudo, (raw, $21) is sparkling clean in the mouth, and offset beautifully by a citrus salad and rosemary grissini.

Keep in mind the roast of the day from the wood-fired oven. The last time we went it was a huge, luscious piece of pull-apart pork, with great crackling.

Choosing can often be difficult, and the five-course tasting menu is a good solution ($85 or $110 with wine).

It is a generous, but not ridiculous amount of food, and features a number of standout dishes: hand-made ricotta and pumpkin tortellini, porcini and wild mushroom risotto and a lovely tangy, luxurious caramelised passionfruit tart.

Mezzalira holds a place in the top 20 after one and half decades for very simple reasons - the food is good and often exciting, the wine list a good combination of local, Italian and reliable Australian greats.

The atmosphere is adult - sophisticated and sexy - and the service is mostly attentive and informed.