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Jerusalem, Israel

This month I was fortunate to attend a Women Leader’s Trade Mission to Israel, with 40 diverse and fabulous Australian women, organised by the Australia-Israel Chamber of Commerce; our group spent four days in Jerusalem and four days in Tel Aviv. There to examine and try and understand all things innovation, it was a wonderful opportunity to experience such a complex and fascinating country.  I’ve written on the business aspects of the trip elsewhere, so here I’ll share with you some of the meals (in our 16-18 hour days we had to eat!) and our lightening fast version of sightseeing in between meetings.

With little time to waste, after our early morning flight arrival and a quick freshen up we headed to the Israel Museum.  It’s a fabulous building, and regarded as one of world’s best museums after extensive renovations in 2010. A must for archaeology fans, as it houses some of the world’s oldest pieces.  The 5,000 year old butter churner had me intrigued. (Is dairy allowed in Paleo? We’ve been eating it for a while it seems, Pete Evans). Set on 20 acres, I loved the large corridors and spaciousness and surrounding gardens. Our tour guide, Elana Ben Chaim, was just charming and delightful – grab her if you can!

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That evening for dinner we headed to Kedma, which you arrive at after a stroll through the very pleasant outdoor Mamila Mall.

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The food was delicious, and here we got a taste of the mezze style of dining we would see a lot of over the next eight days.  Vegetables and dairy feature heavily in the diet here, and very little processed or deep fried food. Every eggplant dish we tried throughout the trip was fantastic – I’m not sure if it is the variety of eggplant, the soil, the water, or the cooking technique!  The focus also seems to be more on savoury rather than sweet, with desserts taking a back seat.  I did find that in general red meat tended to be overcooked compared to what we are used to in Australia, though that may be due to kosher style of butchering, so after trying it at a couple of meals I generally skipped it. Besides there were just too many fabulous vegetable dishes to try. The Marito would have a field day in this country.

From Kedma there is also a great view of the city and the night light show against the Western Wall.

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By far the most confronting part of the trip and of life in general was our visit to the Yad Va’shem Holocaust Memorial the following morning.  An imposing and stark building, what you see inside will leave your heart heavy, your face solemn, and make you drag your feet. You can’t take photos inside but what you see will stay with you.

The capacity for unnecessary human evil is fully on display here, and walking on the pavers of the Warsaw Ghetto, seeing the abandoned shoes, the house keys that people took with them thinking that they would return home one day, touching the carriage that took children to Auschwitz, leaves you silent and rather distraught. There are lots of displays and videos but the sensitive and learned guide we had made clear enormity of the suffering of the six million lives lost.  One and a half million of them were children, amongst them newborns, who are honoured and remembered in the separate Children’s Terrace.

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At Yad Va’Shem you will also see Schindler’s List, the list of all the Jewish people Oskar Schindler saved.  Number 123 is man who now lives in Melbourne, who told our guide that his first stop whenever he visits Israel is the Catholic Cemetery to pay his respects at Schindler’s grave.

One fact our guide shared of which I was unaware, as were most of our group, was the heroism of Denmark.  They refused to accede to Hitler’s demands and brand people with stars or treat them differently, and then organised for their safe removal to Sweden. Denmark is the only country that appears in the Avenue of the Righteous.  This is a path that circles the museum which has the names of people from all around the world who risked their lives to save others from Nazi hands.  One of those is a man who now lives in Melbourne, who was honoured in 1991. Another who is honoured is Irena Sendler, a Polish Social worker who saved over 2,000 children.

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We stopped at Nafour Restaurant to recover and for a mezze refuel. It has a nice outdoor courtyard at the back.

From here we went for an unfortunately too short visit of the Old City of Jerusalem. I would have loved more time wandering the cobbled streets, so do leave yourself a good amount of time if you find yourself here.  There were some very interesting looking market stalls and an endless selection of spices.

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The Old City, a UNESCO World heritage site, is divided into quarters – Jewish, Christian, Muslim and Armenian.  In the Christian quarter you’ll come across the Holy Sepulchre.  Inside is the site of the crucifixion of Jesus, where his body was laid to be shrouded, and the site of his tomb.  I sent some photos to the Small People as I walked through and one of them replied “surely that’s not real?”.  You have to make up your own mind.

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If you’re walking through the Old City, particularly in the evening, it is also hard to miss The Dome of the Rock, an Islamic Temple and holy site and one of the world’s oldest examples of Islamic architecture.   At the moment, visitors are not allowed inside, so you can only wander the outer square.

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We also did a breakneck speed stop at the Dead Sea.  It was one on my bucket list! The Earth’s lowest elevation, it is about ten times saltier than your average ocean.  Doesn’t smell the best either and avoid splashing, apparently it tastes even worse.  But yes you do float straight away, it’s a really weird feeling!  Girlies no shaving beforehand, you’ll feel the sting of all that salt! We did give ourselves a good body scrub though, it was a good laugh.

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deadseaOne for ancient history lovers is Masada, the site of Herod the Great’s Fortress.  How on earth did they do that 2,000 years ago? For the fit and those ready to brave the heat, you can climb to the top via stairs, otherwise there is a cable car.

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We had a traditional Sabbath Dinner and heard from  Rabbi Yael Kari, a female Rabbi from the Israel Movement for Reform, a modern form of Judaism.  She was so lovely and serene.  And I’m not sure if all Sabbath dinners are like this, but there was a crazy amount of food, including good old Jewish Penicillin, chicken soup.

One evening after a geopolitical briefing (the geopolitics of Israel will make your head spin) we headed to the Western Wall, a very holy place of prayer for Judaism. At 9.30pm it was very busy.  There are separate sides for men and women; the male side looked quite social, with many men sitting and having a chat, whereas the female side was definitely less so and pure prayer was the order of the day.

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You can wall the full length of the Western Wall in the underground tunnels, very cool, and not one for the claustrophobic.

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Oh I must mention the breakfast at the King David Hotel where we stayed.  One of the best hotel breakfasts ever!  Just loved the salads and the vegetable tarts and pies in particular.

 

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It is a very grand old style hotel, and also a very busy one, I have never seen so many families and children running about in a luxury hotel. I shot took this picture of the foyer early one morning in a rare moment of quiet.

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A few more snaps of Jerusalem below, some from my fantastic fellow travellers.   A truly interesting city and would love to go back and spend more time there.

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Next stop – Tel Aviv.

 

Hearty winter lentil and vegetable soup

This is a really easy, filling and healthy family meal. You could skip the risoni if you prefer, or add some cooked rice instead to make it gluten free. Not the prettiest dish, but really tasty. Serves 4.

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Ingredients
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
1 large ripe tomato, seeds removed, coarsely chopped
1 large potato, cut into small cubes
1 medium carrot, diced
Handful of green beans, cut into 2-3cm lengths
1 1/2 cups frozen peas
1 large zucchini, cut in half lengthways then thickly sliced
1 cup French green lentils
1 cup risoni
1/3 cup chopped continental parsley
Salt for seasoning
Grated parmesan, to serve (optional)

Making it
In a heavy based pot, heat the olive oil on medium heat, add the onion and a pinch of salt, and fry off until the onion softens. Add the diced tomato and continue to saute until the tomato begins to break down.

Add all the vegetables and another pinch of salt, combine with a wooden spoon then add about 1.5 litres of water. Add the lentils then bring to a simmer for about 15 minutes. Add the risoni and simmer gently till cooked. Check for seasoning. Stir through the parsley and serve, add parmesan if desired.

Timballo of eggplant, peas and scarmorza

Have you ever designed a dish around an ingredient? That’s what happened here.  A very thoughtful long time friend bought me some smoked scarmorza recently, and I was thinking of something delicious I could use it in.  I used most of it here and the rest in a zucchini parmigiana, which I usually make with mozzarella. I used eggplant and peas as well as the scarmorza for my timballo but you can use all sorts of ingredients.  Sydney’s Buon Ricordo does a devine version with tiny veal meatballs, quail eggs and provola. I’ve seen others where each pasta tube is piped with spinach and ricotta, and others which are done with a Bolognese sauce. It’s a fiddly dish but worth it.

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Timballo filling
1 medium eggplant
1/3 cup plain flour
2 hard boiled eggs
1 small onion, finely diced
150g frozen peas
150g smoked scarmorza
Olive oil
Salt

Chop the eggplant into small cubes (small enough to fit inside rigatoni, I used a chopping contraption I got from Williams and Sonoma which I bring out when I have a recipe requiring perfectly consistent slicing or chopping).  Put the flour in a plastic freezer bag, add the eggplant and shake to coat.  Place a frypan on high heat with about 1cm of olive oil.  Once the olive oil is hot, fry the eggplant, in batches if needed, until golden, and drain on a paper towel. Season and set aside.

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Place the peas in a bowl and microwave for a few minutes.  In the meantime, put a tablespoon of oil in a small frypan and saute the onion until soft.  Add the peas and saute for another 4-5 minutes. Take off the heat and put the peas and onion in a bowl and allow to cool.

Chop the eggs into small cubes, small enough pieces to fit inside rigatoni, and add to the peas.  Likewise with the scarmorza.  Finally add the eggplant to the bowl and combine all the ingredients.

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Tomato sauce
4 tbps olive oil
2 x 400g tins whole tomatoes
4-5 basil leaves
Salt

Heat the oil in a small pot, add the tomatoes, 1 cup of water, the basil and salt and allow to simmer on low to medium heat for 30 minutes.  Take off the heat, puree with a stick blender and set aside.

Pasta
500g rigatoni
1 egg
50g grated parmesan, plus extra for serving
Chopped basil, for garnish

In a large pot, bring some salted water to the boil and cook the rigatoni until al dente, circa 8 minutes.  Strain and lay the rigatoni on a tea towel to dry and cool.  In a large bowl (large enough to fit all the rigatoni), crack the egg and beat lightly.  Add the parmesan and then add the rigatoni and combine.    Add two ladles of sauce to the bowl and combine to coat the rigatoni.

Assembly

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees Celsius fan forced.

Grease a 19cm springform cake tin and line the base and sides with baking paper.  Starting from the rim, place the rigatoni standing up until the tin is full (you may have a small amount of rigatoni left over).

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Gently start filling the rigatoni with the timballo filing mix. (I didn’t use all I mix, I thought it was pretty full, but once I cut it post cooking I realise I could have stuffed more in, so don’t be shy). Once done, spoon a couple of ladles of the tomato sauce on the top and give the tin a gentle tap.

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Cover the filled springform tin with foil and bake for about 30 minutes, remove the foil and bake for a further 10 minutes.  Remove from the oven and allow to sit for 10-15 minutes. Place a plate over the top of the cake tin and flip the timballo.  Loosen the springform tin and remove and remove the baking paper.

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Garnish with parmesan and chopped basil and serve.  You can also spoon over and remaining tomato sauce.

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In my kitchen, May 2017

It has been a glorious few weeks of Autumn in Sydney.  Beautiful warm blue sky days and slightly crisp evenings.  It’s been so mild that a couple of tomato plants we had left in the ground have gotten confused and started producing tomatoes again; our basil plant looks like we’re in the prime of summer.  My hen friends have loved the sun, scratching out comfortable spots and lying down and sunbaking, I half expect them to call out for a round of Pina Coladas.

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Meanwhile, in my kitchen, is chocolate left over from Easter.  The mountain is considerably smaller than a few weeks ago and the Small People are slowly consuming it.  I plead guilty to taking the occasional little egg from their stash.

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In my kitchen is some Italian smoked scarmorza, a gift from a thoughtful friend.  Scarmorza is an Italian cheese, similar to mozzarella. She said she’s struggled to find a smoked one in Australia as good as those in Italy; this one was pretty damn good. She used hers in a lasagne,  I’ve got some yummy plans for this one for a pasta dish too.

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More cheese….a beautiful freshly cut chunk of parmiggiano reggiano from the Italian deli; it will be used in lots of dishes.

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I also bought some green lentils at another local deli, these are type of lentils I prefer.  One of these days it will cool down and lentils are great for winter soups.

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In my kitchen are “mustazzoli”.  These are very traditional ginger and honey biscuits.  They can be made chewy or ultra hard.  Typically, they are sold and Italian Festivals and Fairs; my father-in-law bought them at a festival recently.  The Marito loves them, I’m not terribly partial.

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Tidying up the other day, I found a recipe for a limoncello cream that my cousin in Calabria had jotted down on a piece of paper for me years ago….now I need to find the other post it note with the method!

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In my kitchen is some deliciousness from Mamma Rosa.  They are crumbed artichoke.  She bought them over ready for me to cook.  She slices the artichokes, gently poaches them in stock, then allows them to cool and crumbs them. Then they are lightly fried.  I adore them.

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I’ve been experimenting with hydration (water) levels in my bread, gradually working my way higher.  When I first started baking I was using circa 55% hydration (ie 55% of the weight of flour in water), this loaf is 70%.  It is much harder to shape but ends up with a better result.

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And finally in my kitchen is a tiramisu I made today to take to work tomorrow (recipe here).  The Marito looked on somewhat jealously and asked if he was getting one too. So I made him a mini one.

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What’s happening in your kitchen? Sherry from Sherry’s Pickings has taken over hosting this monthly blog link up which I so enjoy (thanks Sherry!).  Have a peek into kitchens around the world!

 

Restaurant Hubert, Sydney

Push open the heavy door. The sound of Jazz music comes up the spiral staircase.  Descend said stairs past thousands and thousands of mini-bar style bottles.  To my right is a queue of people waiting for a spot at a cosy bar with its own bar menu.  To my left is the restaurant, full of relaxed, post work chatter.   A grand piano sits on a small stage, red curtains behind it.   It is waiting for someone to belt out some Gershwin or Piaf.  Welcome to Hubert, dripping in atmosphere and conviviality.

Hubert was one of the hottest openings of 2016, it was near impossible to get a spot unless you were willing to get there for a Nursery Hour dinner or, at the other end of the spectrum,  at the time you’d usually be lining up at Golden Century for post drinking salt and pepper squid.  The website had people cursing in frustration – in the first few months there was no menu to peruse, no bookings except for 6 or more and only allowed within a certain number of days in advance, no phone number if you needed to make a change, dinner only, lunch mas non, and truly suboptimal lighting for ‘Grammers.  Other than the booking policy and the lighting, the other things have thankfully changed.

On my first visit I thought that the place was perhaps a wee bit overhyped.  On my second visit though, coinciding with their one year anniversary, I bought into the dream. There’s some pretty fine French fare going on here so take a bunch of your friends so you can work your way through it, some of the plates are too big for two to share.  There was a wonderful sounding whole duck special that night, but designed for 3-4. No surprise that the place got a two hats debut.

The very long wine menu makes for some entertaining reading, peppered with a staff Q&A. There are several pages just of whisky, so my friend thought that no pinot gris by the glass was a little black cross.

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The bread bought to the table is just excellent, and so is the butter; it would be easy to gorge on it.  But I’m surprised that it is what goes with the smooth and delicious duck pate, I would have preferred some thin crisps instead.

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Love the wagyu tartare (what’s left of it, I forgot to take a photo); unusual combo with the French fries, which are smattered in herbs and finger licking good

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The Clams Normande come in a light buttery fish stock, I dip the bread in so as to soak it all up.

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The pickled octopus with kipfler is a bit too acidic for me, but that’s my fault for not reading the word pickled on the menu.

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I’m also not that big a fan of the much talked about Malakoff, a deep fried gruyere.  One mouthful does the job, it is quite rich.

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But I love the lobster spaghetti, done in a lobster sauce with cherry tomatoes and chives.

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The John Dory provencal is simply done, poached with a topping of tomato, olive oil and basil.

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The crew put their own spin on Pommes Anna, taking the potatoes vertical instead of the typical French horizontal.  Ah that beurre blanc.

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On my second visit though the four dishes my friend and I had ordered were bought to the table all in extremely quick succession and we ran out of room, perching one precariously on a wooden divider. Gotta turn those tables folks. Long and leisurely is not the name of the game if you eat before 8.30pm.

I did love both the desserts I tried.  They are very generously sized, and easily shared between two.

The Santa Claus melon with finger lime, sorrel jelly and young coconut sorbet is wonderfully refreshing.

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Having had a few enjoyable vacherin desserts in my time – typically layers of meringue and cream – I decide to try theirs.  It makes me chuckle, it looks like it should have a barbie doll sticking out of the top of it – remember those barbie toilet roll holders? Lurking behind the cream is the meringue, which when smashed though reveals a delicious combination of sauternes ice cream, honeycomb, lemon and mandarin.

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There’s a private dining area available and also a banquet menu for groups.

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Restaurant Hubert, Basement, 15 Bligh St, Sydney
Ph 9232 9881
http://www.restauranthubert.com/

Restaurant Hubert Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Making pignolata

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A few days before Easter, I give Mamma Rosa a call and suggest we knock together a pignolata, we haven’t made it for ages. “You know”, she says, “I was thinking the same thing”. We’re getting into the territory of hardcore traditional Southern Italian sweets, and for me one that comes with a lot of memories. Nonna, Mamma Rosa and I would get a little production line going to make it happen. When I was growing up, pignolata would typically be made at Christmas and Easter, in the shape of a wreath. But Mamma Rosa, clever lady that she is, often made it into other shapes, giant number 18’s or 21’s depending on the birthday, and there was a dove or two here and there.

Like all of her recipes, none of the quantities are exact, it’s really about look and feel and experience. The dough for pignolata is very similar to that of crostoli, it’s just what you do with it that’s different. The amount we made was quite a big batch – it can produce two large pignolate, or three smaller ones. (By the way other Italian readers may know this sweet as struffoli, but in my mother’s village it has always been pignolata).

So off we go. We start by putting ten large eggs in a large bowl of the electric mixer. Next, says Mamma Rosa, “metti ‘na cucciarinata di zucchero per ogni uovo”. That’s one heaped spoon of caster sugar for each egg. Whisk them in the electric mixer till combined and fluffy.

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Next, add about half a cup of olive oil. Mamma Rosa never uses standard cup measures. Its just “ ‘na tazza” and typically whatever coffee cup she grabs from the cupboard. I guessed it to be about half a cup. Then half a cup of Sambuca (Molinari the only acceptable one at their house!) or Millefiore. She loves Millefiore, a lovely floral Italian liquor she often uses in sweets, but she says its dreadfully expensive here compared to Italy. Combine the oil and liquor into the egg mixture with a wooden spoon.

Now it’s time to add the flour. Like crostoli, she uses two parts plain flour to one part self raising flour. At a guess, I’d say we used about 800g of plain and 400g of self raising. You want the dough to be soft and pliable. We fold in the flour with a wooden spoon then we used the dough hook attachment to bring it together for a couple of minutes. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface, knead until smooth and form in the shape of a log. (If it is too much to knead in one piece just split it in two).

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Cut the log into discs, then roll each disc into long thin strips, kind of like breadsticks. They do need to be quite thin because the dough does puff up when cooked due to the self raising flour. Dad grabs a giant tile from the garage and Mamma Rosa and I take a seat and get rolling. As we roll she chatters as she often does about growing in Italy. She tells me that when Nonna used to make pignolata she’d make seven or eight at a time, and hand them out around the village. It would be the same with bread, biscuits, blankets,  whatever she was making. “Mama era di mani larghe” she says. “She was of big hands”.  Generous, she means. I miss Nonna. But the apple hasn’t fallen far from the tree.

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Once we have all our strips ready its time to cut. Grab a serrated knife and cut the strips into little pieces, about 1cm long or so.

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Then it’s time to fry. Heat some oil in a deep pan (Mamma Rosa used canola) and then fry the dough balls in batches until nice and golden. Set the fried balls aside and give the pan a clean. At this point we divided the balls in two to make two separate pignolate. The honey mixture below was just for one of them. If you don’t want to make two at once you can store the fried balls (once cooled) in an airtight container then go again another day.

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Return the pan to the heat and add about 350g of honey and half a cup of caster sugar on low/medium heat. (You can also add a little cinnamon but I’m not really a fan). Stir constantly until it starts to go golden and caramelise – but not toffee –  (was a good ten minutes or so), then add in the dough balls, combine till well coated keep stirring till the honey starts simmering, and continue to stir for another 5-10 minutes.

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The next step is to shape it. You can either shape it on a board or on the plate you’re going to serve it on. Be very careful, the honey is scaldingly hot, so we had a bowl of iced water at the ready. You can’t really let it cool down much as then it will begin to set before you can shape it. We spray the board with olive oil, put a glass down and then tip the honey coated balls around it and begin to shape. Add some sprinkles for decoration, remove the glass, then leave it to harden and set. Once it is set store in the fridge until you are ready to serve and cut with a serrated knife.

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It keeps well in the fridge in a sealed container for several days. It took the two of us a good three hours to make this, so it is a labour of love, but well worth it!

Flour Eggs Water, Tramsheds Harold Park

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The folk from A Tavola know their pasta and do it well, and they’ve expanded the family with the opening of Flour Eggs Water at the recently redeveloped Tramsheds precinct.  It’s a long narrow space where you can sit at a bench or on a communal table, and where you’ll be warmly welcomed by the staff, as I was on both my visits.   It isn’t an overly long menu, but one that changes regularly depending on what’s seasonal, and you’ll recognise a few favourites from the original A Tavola in Darlinghurst.  The menu is a little bit of a meander through Italy, as you’ll see a bit of Sicily, a bit of Sardinia, and some Calabria and Piedmonte thrown in for good measure.

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Start off with some beautiful San Daniele prosciutto and a hunk of buffalo mozzarella. It was gone in seconds.   They also give you some house focaccia which is so light and airy, but we ate it too quickly to take a picture of it!

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We tried the cuttlefish with fregola and pane carasau (there’s your Sardinia) with watermelon and mint. The latter ingredients added beautiful freshness and the cuttlefish was well cooked, but I did find the dish a little dry, it needed more of a dressing.

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On the other hand the beef tartare is a bit too saucy and acidic and the beef is a bit lost.  Excellent crunchy slivers of bread served with it though.

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But then the pasta arrives and shines.  Even Mamma Rosa gives it a tick of approval, so it must be good.

The malloreddus with pork and porcini is fragrant and rich and just gorgeous.  It’s a very generous serve too.

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Vegetarians will be absolutely delighted with the agnolotti dal plin (there’s your Piedmonte), with eggplant, scamorza, ricotta, salata.  The problem is it is so delicious the non vegetarians will want to steal it.

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Crab fans will enjoy the mezzelune with crab, ricotta and asparagus.  They come in a bit of a bisque.  One of my sorelle finds it a bit too fishy but I enjoy it.

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I also rate the chittara al nero di sepia with prawns, basil and pistachio (hello Sicily).  Chittara means “guitar”, the pasta being so named as it is traditionally made using a tool with strings, like a guitar. Lovely flavour combination, must try and make this at home.

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The pappardelle with lamb is one of their signatures.  The pasta is silky smooth. I do like lamb, but not in ragu form, so this wasn’t a favourite for me.

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Accompany your pasta with a refreshing salad.  Loved the red cabbage salad with raisins and walnuts.

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Otherwise there’s radicchio with witlof with fennel, orange mint and lemon.

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If you have room for dessert, there’s a few A Tavola favourites.

There’s the tiramisu, which in taste reminds me very much of my version.

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Or the cremino al cioccolato (from the original Darlinghurst venue), which looks like a cappuccino but isn’t.

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If you’re too full but just want a little sweet, try a cannolo.  It’s pretty good with a crunchy casing, but there are others that I prefer.

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Overall, its a lovely spot for a casual Italian meal, one you can easily drift to regularly.  Tutti a tavola!

Flour, Eggs, Water, Tramsheds Harold Park
Ph (02) 9188 7438
http://www.tramshedsharoldpark.com.au

Flour Eggs Water By A Tavola Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato