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Avanti is located on the ground floor of the Regal Riverside hotel in Sha Tin. The centre of the dining room is dominated by a semi glass-encased open kitchen featuring a pizza oven, but unfortunately the view is partially obstructed by gray plastic trays containing cutlery. Other décor elements include mosaic lampshades, metallic cloth seat covers and the Godfather soundtrack. Make sure to bring a shawl as the potted plant leaves actually rustle in the breeze of the air conditioning.
Avanti serves a large and varied menu, including items not usually seen on a traditional Italian menu such as pizza “Mumbay” with coriander and tandoori chicken. The menu caters to a more local idea of Italian cuisine, offering such hybrids as black pepper and honey-marinated chicken wings with arrabbiata sauce. We decide to start with slightly more traditional starters of lobster bisque and Caesar salad, neither of which, granted, are the most Italian of appetisers. The salad is inoffensive, though the dressing is on the tart side and both the bacon bits and pre-grated parmesan cheese could have been of higher quality. The lobster bisque tastes mainly of overly seasoned stock, and lacks the sweetness of lobster. Curiously, the only crustacean we saw in our soup were shrimps, not lobster. For our pasta course, we try the signature seafood risotto au gratin. The lobster sauce the risotto is cooked in actually tastes more of seafood than our bisque does, but unfortunately, the three mussels in our dish that had not opened during cooking made us wary of trying any of the other seafood in the dish. The other pasta dish, penne all’Amatriciana, comes in a thick tomato sauce and is quite pleasant, though spicier than one would expect. We try out the pizza kitchen and order the most basic (and often most telling) of pizzas: the margarita. We like the thin crust and the shredded basil on top, but unfortunately, there was too much mozzarella which congealed extremely quickly, suggesting that it is not of the best quality. For dessert, we opt for the tiramisu and the chocolate fondant. After the mediocre quality of the rest of the food, the tiramisu comes as a pleasant surprise, while the chocolate fondant is much thinner than usual, which means the proportion of oozing melted chocolate to pastry is on the low side.
There are eight types of wines by the glass. Wines by the bottle have a focus on Italy and the wine list is a bit haphazard, as the wines are not listed by grape, region, price or even alphabetically. The Regal brand Cabernet Sauvignon recommended by the manager is a surprisingly decent red wine, which goes well with some of the heavier pasta dishes.
The manager at Avanti is refreshingly frank, when asked for opinions, he was happy to give his honest recommendations, as well as what he would not order.
A three-course dinner for two, including wine, comes to about HK$650. While this may seem inexpensive at first, after taking into account Avanti’s location and the middling quality of the food, this would not seem like a particularly good deal.