Category Archives: Italian

The Festival of Nonna

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The Festival of Nonna celebrates the Italian matriarch, the epicentre of the clan, the recipes that have been handed down verbally by generation, without measurements but by feel, taste and a love of simple and fresh ingredients.  The series of dinners, being held in Sydney and Melbourne between 8 October and 26 October, feature Italian chefs and their mothers, Nonna to their children.

This evening we have Luca Ciano, who came to Australia from Milan Michelin starred restaurant Il Luogo, and his delightful mother Nonna Anita, at A Tavola in Sydney’s Darlinghurst.  She is full of energy and enthusiasm, in spite of having ended her 20 plus hour journey from Italy that morning, and just adorable.  Together they start making Anita’s Bolognese.  It begins with a classic “soffritto” of onion, carrot, and celery in olive oil, followed by the addition of mince of veal, pork and meat from an Italian sausage.  Red wine, crushed tomatoes, and bay leaves are next.  She also adds thyme, I’ll have to give that a try next time.  Like me, she does not include garlic, which would probably surprise a lot of people.

Such a sauce would typically slow simmer for hours, and Nonna Anita is a little mortified that we are tasting it before it is fully cooked, served with some fluffy gnocchi that Luca has whipped up in the blink of an eye in the meantime.  The gentle ribbing and arguing between them in Italian is very funny and reminds me of my conversations with Mamma Rosa.  There’s plenty of opportunity to chat to them both through the evening, as they hand out jars of special Festival of Nonna pasta sauce, and while we enjoy a beautiful and extensive Italian menu, accompanied by very drinkable prosecco and wine. The lighting is not great, so apologies for the photos which don’t do any justice to the food.

It is the nature of these special relationships, often developed in the kitchen, that led the Lubrano family behind Sandhurst Fine Foods to launch the Festival of Nonna last year. Mimmo, his wife and Nonna Geraldine, the Sandhurst Matriarch, are there that evening and I have a wonderful time talking to them.  I’ve always wondered why an Italian family company has a name like Sandhurst so it was great to ask them in person.  When they bought the farm in the 1960’s – then owned by a Russian, a Pole and an Englishman – it was called Sandhurst Farm and they never changed it.  Back then Geraldine and husband Vince ran a deli.  Vince was a fisherman in Italy before coming to Australia; neither of them really knew much about farming, manufacturing, and distribution.  But like many Italian migrants who came to Australia for a better life, hard work did not scare them and they seized the opportunity.  And so it began.

It was all in for the family, with their two sons Mimmo and Ray being embedded in the business from the beginning. I love hearing that the family still sits down to lunch every day, prepared by patriarch Vince who is 86.

Over time, they looked for other family businesses to work with who would provide them with the quality of ingredients they expected. Sitting next to us is a couple from far north Queensland, the Torrisi family, who’ve been supplying them all their basil for twenty years.  Similarly, the eggplant they use comes from a family in Mildura.  The importance to them of family relationships extends to long lasting business relationships.

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I want to adopt Nonna Geraldine, and I’m sure she means it when she gives us an invitation to join them for lunch one day.  A few weeks ago I became Nonna-less.  I was very blessed in both my Nonnas – kind, strong, selfless and loving women who never breathed a word of complaint about the hardships they endured and the poverty of post war Italy.  My Nonna in Italy, who I am named after, had a wicked sense of humour and was remarkably open minded for one of her era.  I’ll never forget her laugh.

The Festival of Nonna, October 2017
http://sandhurstfinefoods.com.au/nonna/events/

Napoli Restaurant Alert dined as a guest of Festival of Nonna

Bacco Osteria e Espresso, Sydney

A cobbled laneway.  An Italian osteria.  Chefs who know Italian food.  It’s all looking positive for Bacco, recently opened in Ash Street.  Since Fratelli Fresh fell into the hands of a large dining conglomerate and Andy Bunn left the scene, it isn’t quite the same, so was good to see a new casual Italian diner around this end of town.  It’s a handy spot to catch up with a friend for a chat, who is about to make me jealous with her itinerary of three months of travel.

The interior is unfussy, true to an osteria style.  And the menu is compact but broadly appealing, other than some specific offal dish which doesn’t tempt us.  Be prepared to get to know your neighbours, the tables along the side wall are so close to each other that they may as well have been joined.  Not the place if you’re looking for privacy.

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The dishes we try are tasty and the flavours good. What lets them down that night is the service. Drinks have to be chased, attention is hard to come by, and when my credit card payment doesn’t get processed properly there’s more waiting because the waitress disappears so fast that I can’t catch anyone’s eye to fix it. A runner would have been easy. So there’s a bit of work to be done but it’s early days. Anyway here is what we try

A couple of simple potato and prosciutto croquettes. I’m partial the odd croquette, especially when they have a good crunchy coating.

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The artichokes with straciatella is Italian simplicity done well. The straciatella is gorgeous

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Grilled quail with witlof and pine nuts.  Simple, nicely cooked quail but the dressing is a little tart for my liking.

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The pasta dishes are very nicely executed. Though at $24 and $26 they don’t have the portion generosity of a Flour Eggs Water. CBD rents and all that.

Gnocchi with pistachio – petite little pillows combine with nutty crunch

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Strozzapretti with a pork and guanciale ragu – very nice indeed.

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Bacco Osteria e Espresso, 1 Angel Place, Sydney Ph 02 9235 3383
http://www.bacco.com.au

Bacco Osteria e Espresso Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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

Il Girarrosto, Hunters Hill

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Il Girarrosto is the latest venture of Luigi Esposito, the founder of Via Napoli.  But where Via Napoli is all about the carbs, Girarrosto – the Italian word for rotisserie – is all about the protein.  In fact, other than a few bruschetta type entrees, you’ll find very little in the way of carbs on the menu.  Vegacquarians like my Marito are catered for, with a nice offering of seafood, but pure vegetarians might struggle a little.

There is also a nice offering of cheeses and charcuterie.

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The rotisseries themselves are impressive, slowly roasting beef, chicken, lamb and quail.

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Large cuts of meat and the various seafood are cooked on grill plates at the fire.

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I was a fan of the king prawns, on a bed of cherry tomatoes and some fresh chopped chilli.

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The Marito preferred the baby octopus.

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Whole snapper was nicely done, though the stuffing inside was a touch too salty.

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Our little carnivores on the other hand, polished off a 1kg rib eye which was a special on offer that night.  It was medium rare, smoky, and tasty.  I also liked the rosemary potatoes.

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The salad dressing needs some refining, I found it a bit oily and lacking flavour.

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Given meat and seafood, don’t expect the same cheap and cheerful pricing you’ll get at Via Napoli – and that’s the point as Luigi does want to bring something different to the table.

Il Girarrosto, 60 Gladesville Road Hunters Hill
http://www.ilgirarrosto.com.au

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Il Girarrosto Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Salt Meats Cheese, Mosman

Since its humble beginnings in 2012 as a warehouse in Alexandria with pallets of European food goods to buy, Salt Meats Cheese has morphed into so much more.  You can still buy the goodies, but now you can sit and eat, and cook up a storm.  SMC has now opened a small outpost on the northside in Mosman.  Plenty to buy to prepare your own meals at home but you can also sit in the cosy dining area and eat and enjoy a glass of Italian wine.  There are pre-prepared items like pizza, calzone, various rolls that they will heat up, and others made fresh. But I think the thing to do is go up to the counter with one of the knowledgeable staff, get a selection of cold meats, a plate of cheese (also get the onion jam with it, its delicious and they sell it to take home too), a glass of red and take a seat and relax.

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Add to that some of the house made mozzarella with fresh tomato….smc mosman (4)

…some very good truffle chips, and some dear friends for company, and you have the makings of a pleasant and relaxed meal.smc mosman (5)

There are also plenty of sweet treats on offer, including Papa’s ricotta cake, to enjoy with a well made cup of coffee.

Salt Meats Cheese Mosman, 803 Military Road, Mosman
http://www.saltmeatscheese.com.au

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Salt Meats Cheese Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

ACME, Rushcutters Bay

When I heard there was a new restaurant called ACME, I thought that maybe the owner was a fan of  the Road Runner and Wile E Coyote cartoons I used to watch when I was little with its ACME brand explosives that never worked. But no, the name was born from the four initials of the four partners, with M being the head chef, Mitch Orr. I met him at the Young Gun’s dinner series, and he seems like quite a character, which is reflected in some of the left of centre food coming over the pass. Yes there is pasta made in beautiful Italian tradition – which has no doubt been a big contributor to the hat earned in the recent awards – but it may be paired with a little Filippino, Korean or Japanese flavours.

At first glance the pricing seems reasonable – snacks and entrees go from $5 to $24, and the pasta dishes from $12 to $24, but be warned the serves are small. If you’re hungry you may need entrée, main, dessert and then some, so it is not as good value as you would think, or may require the Macca’s pitstop on the way home. Service though, is top notch and the staff are warm and friendly. Out for a team dinner, we had a group banquet for $60 (not including dessert) in the lovely space downstairs which can be used for private dining, which meant we got to try quite a few dishes.

We start off with the baloney sandwich. It isn’t something I would have automatically ordered, and I’m very glad they chose it for us. A soft fluffy roll, delicious mortadella, and some tangy relishACME (1)

The pippis too are nicely done and not tampered with too much, a little bit of lime and pepper, lovelyACME (4)

The following two vegetable courses though leave me a little uninspired. Fried parsnip is just ok though the mayo has a bit of a kickACME (2)

The pencil leeks are chewy, but the seaweed butter is decadent, would have been nice to have some crusty bread to spread it onACME (3)

In between as a bit of a cleanser is a combination of blood orange, pomelo and mascarpone. Its not a combination that works for me.ACME (8)

But we get a comeback with the pasta dishes which shine. The wonderfully thin linguine and given flavour and texture with burnt chilli and black garlic, and it’s a table favourite.ACME (5)

So too is the maltagliati (that’s “badly cut” for the non Italians) with rabbit and pistachio, silky pasta and nicely braised rabbitACME (7)

The only pasta dish I’m ambivalent about is calamari with Korean Bolognese, it falls in the “interesting” category and I’m not quite sure if I like it.ACME (6)

But the macaroni with pigs head and egg yolk proves another winner.ACME (9)

ACME, 60 Bayswater Road, Rushcutters Bay, Ph (02) 8068 0932
http://weareacme.com.au/
ACME Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Three Michelin Star Italian? Otto e Mezzo Bombana, Hong Kong

It has taken me a few months to write this post up, which I suppose tells you something. I was in Hong Kong for a couple of days last December, and after a busy day of meetings, a few colleagues and I decided to try the Three Michelin Starred Otto e Mezzo Bombana, so named after Federico Fellini’s 1963 movie, and executive Chef Umberto Bombana.   It’s the only Italian restaurant outside of Italy to get three whole sparkles, so I was expecting big things. It is in a shopping centre which does make for somewhat of an odd window view if you sit in that section of the restaurant; in Australian shopping centre fine dining has failed miserably.  But in places like Hong Kong, a city of giant interconnecting malls and hotels, that is where you’ll find a lot of the high end eats. There is an a la carte menu but most opt for the degustation, as did we. I wouldn’t call it traditional Italian, rather Italian influenced.

There were moments of brilliance, but only moments, and for A$280 each with only one glass of wine, we do much better in Sydney. Service was faultless which took it up a notch, but I doubt Jill Dupleix and Terry Durack would hand over three toques so readily.   So here was our menu:

Broccoli puree with house mortadella. Interesting combination – good as an amuse bouche – don’t think a big serve would have workedottoemezzo (2)

Seared red tuna with fennel pollen, tomato and citrus emulsion, calvisius elite caviar. Looked pretty, but unremarkable flavour. ottoemezzo (3)

Fresh porcini salad. I love fresh porcini, which had no doubt been flown in at great expense (this was an extra dish we ordered and not part of the degustation). I thought it had some kind of tiny egg on it, but it was actually a curd which I thought was unnecessary. ottoemezzo (4)

Artisanal trenette – scampi and Mediterranean flavour. I’m not quite sure what the “Mediterranean flavour” consisted of but this dish tasted strangely sweet, almost like it had sugar in it. Odd. One of our non-scampi-eating group had the ragu, and I had order envy – that smelt devine.ottoemezzo (5)

Roast blue lobster – winer salad, topinambur (that’s Jerusalem artichoke for the layman), lobster and mushroom jus. Nothing special here, the quality of the lobster was disappointing.ottoemezzo (6)

Maruya beef sirloin signature series – roast root, aromatic herbs and natural jus. Outstanding beef, perfectly cooked. Finally we’re talking.ottoemezzo (7)

Montebianco – marron ice cream, meringue and Chantilly. Loved this dessert, original, not too sweet, just the right size, good texturally. We end on a high note. What I did find odd is that an Italian restaurant would use marron in the name, the French word for chestnut, rather than castagna.ottoemezzo (8)   The price included some (fairly pedestrian) petit fours and tea and coffee.ottoemezzo (9)

Otto e Mezzo Bombana, Shop 202, Landmark Alexandra, 18 Chater Road, Central, Hong Kong, Ph +852 2537 8859

http://www.ottoemezzobombana.com