It was a bad day when Vanessa Martin closed the one hatted Il Piave on Darling Street – her pasta dishes were always right up there. Its been a long time between drinks, but finally here she is again running the show at Mercato e Cucina, where one side operates as a “mercato” where you can buy fruit and vegetables, meat, charcuterie, pasta, olive oil, and the other side as the “cucina” where you can enjoy a quick pizza or a long and leisurely meal. The wine list too is fairly impressive, and the cocktails were unexpectedly good though a little on the small side for the price.
We start with the salumi board, a very attractively presented board with some top quality prosciutto, ham and the like which you can buy to take home from the store. The olives too were fat and delicious. We also go for the pork belly, which is tender and juicy; it has an onion jam on top which has a tang and a cabbage and apple salad underneath.
The calamari was beautifully cooked and the accompanying mint, caper and red onion aioli is bursting with flavour. The scallops on the other hand, served with a sweet corn puree with basil oil and crispy herbs fall a little short, I find them bland despite all the surrounds, perhaps a touch underseasoned.
The pizza gets approval from around the table, a good crust and quality toppings. The buffalo mozzarella is generous, no skimping here, and the seafood pizza too is beautifully fresh. But the menu doesn’t mention that it is also full of anchovies, and it should, since it is one of those polarising ingredients. I find they overpower the delicate mussels and vongole.
And then comes a bit of a showstopper and the dish of the day – a white mushroom risotto with burnt butter and truffle pecorino. Seriously rich and seriously good. I think it will go on my list of Sydney’s must have pasta dishes.
The other pasta dishes also shine – the squid ink fettucini, and then a succulent ragu, topped with ricotta salata (and be warned, it is salty, so just take it off if its not your thing). They are generous, which is what Italian food is all about.
We were too full for desert, so I’ll have to try that next time.
I’ve seen a lot of negative reviews on this place, mostly directed at service. I couldn’t really fault the food and we were warmly welcomed and the waiter we had was very polite. They do however need a few more floor staff, particularly on a busy Saturday night, to make sure everyone is attentively looked after – if there are any shortcomings, it was that a few extra hands on deck would have been useful.
Mercato e Cucina, 297-307 Victoria Road, Gladesville, ph (02) 9817 3457