Senators' bargain meals leave sour taste for public

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The Independent Online

It's not easy to find a good, cheap meal in the centre of Rome these days. Tourists are routinely charged €12 (£10.50) to €14 for a plate of over-cooked linguini and even locals in the know are hard-pressed to find a decent plate of pasta for less than a tenner.

So, in the absence of time travel, a fine three-course meal all-in for €8 might seem impossible – unless, that is, you're one of Italy's highly paid senators, with access to the Palazzo Madama restaurant.

Italy's financially pressed and increasingly riled citizens knew their parliamentarians had a cushy life after recent revelations about grotesque expense claims, free travel and even subsidised hairdressers.

But rubbing Italians' noses in it even further, details have appeared of the Senate's hugely subsidised catering, in which the honourable members, who earn around €12,000 a month including expenses, and who enjoy free travel, can lunch on prosciutto ham with melon for a very reasonable €2.33, risotto with turbot and courgette flowers for €3.34 and spaghetti with anchovies for a mere €1.60. Even grilled swordfish will set them back only €3.55. Senators might also have to splash out 30c on a coffee.

The menu was leaked to L'espresso magazine by Carlo Monai an MP from the anti-corruption Italy of Values party.

Its publication comes as President Giorgio Napolitano yesterday called ministers back from their summer holidays for an unusual mid-August meeting to pave the way for drastic cuts and savings in public spending totalling €48bn. Finance Minister Giulio Tremonti, meanwhile, agreed to meet European Central Bank demands to take steps to liberalise Italy's sclerotic economy and boost growth in exchange for help in shielding Italy from the eurozone debt crisis.

To add insult to injury, it emerged last month that MPs in the ruling People of Freedom party quietly slipped amendments into the cuts package aimed at protecting their salaries, which at €140,000 – excluding enormous expense allowances – are the most generous in Europe.

What's on the menu, Silvio?

Antipasto of the day: Fillets of bass with chicory and almonds €3.34

Second course of the day: Fillets of sea bream in a potato crust €5.23; Veal escalope with green peppercorns €5.23

From the grill: Grilled swordfish €3.55; Grilled sirloin of veal €3.55