I’ve been on a bit of an Italian restaurant bender in the last few weeks – Popolo, Cucinetta, Rosetta, and now La Disfida. It wasn’t intentional, goodness knows I get plied with enough Italian from Mamma Rosa, and also make it myself (and maybe in 20 years I’ll nail the flavours like she does), but it just worked out that way. Tonight we’re out with Salvatore, who is visiting from the Motherland. He actually owns a good – and ridiculously cheap – pizzeria in my mother’s village. No, I’m not being brave taking him out for pizza, but like many Italians I know (eg my father), when they go out to eat, they go out for ……Italian. I can’t blame them for not being adventurous, they haven’t had a lot of exposure to other cuisines growing up like we do in Oz. In the village Salvatore comes from (total population 1,000), you can’t exactly pop up the road to pick up some Pad Thai.
So here we are in downtown Haberfield at La Disfida which opened sometime in the ‘90’s. I used to go there a bit, and I stopped going because, well, actually I’m not sure why. Probably because others started to open that had to be tried, and then the owners changed and it got sidelined. They were one of the first in Sydney to do ‘proper’ Italian pizzas with a really thin base and only a couple of toppings instead of your thick-crust-super-supreme-with-the-lot. Salvatore tells me he’s had some great, some average pizza in Sydney – in his view there are two essentials – first, the dough must be proved for 24 hours; second, the tomato sauce used should not be pre-cooked.
So after a long time between visits, its time to check out if La Disfida still lives up to the mark. The new owners decided to add a few extras to the menu so it wasn’t just about the pizza and to give a little more choice. We arrive just after 6pm on a Sunday and the place is heaving - they take bookings only for groups of 5 or more. There’s a good and tempting antipasto selection on the specials board as well as a pasta and pizza special of the day.
We order and the food comes out very quickly. Its a bit of a mixed bag, some dishes are great, some have missed the mark with seasoning. The pizza is good but nothing special – I actually preferred all the antipasto dishes. The damage for five people for 4 antipasti, 1 pasta (Bolognese which was underseasoned and the sauce tasted like it hadn’t been cooked long enough), 4 pizzas and 2 beers was just over $40 a head, so ok I suppose but not extreme value either for pizzas and a few extras (to compare – a margherita here is $22 vs $17 at Lucio Pizzeria and $20 at Via Napoli, and their ‘gourmet’ pizzas are $26, which is also dearer than others). Once it was clear we weren’t having dessert the staff busied themselves cleaning the table and it felt like a little nudge to say ‘move on already’. I’d put Via Napoli over this in terms of value and overall taste Northside, and Lucio Pizzeria in the East.
La Disfida, 109 Ramsay St Haberfield, ph (02) 9798 8299