Life gets busy. That’s what happens when you grow up, get married, have kids, work, run a household, write a blog, learn piano (slowly), eat (a lot), and do plenty of other things in those hours when you’re not sleeping. So although my mother, both sisters and I all live no more than a 15-20 minute drive apart, we can easily go several weeks and not see each other. A couple of years ago we decided we would have girls only lunches for our birthdays, which works well given that they are spread across the year. This also helps support my blog habit, and the girl crew are generally cool with anything I suggest.
Once at the chosen venue, it has in the past gone something like this: one sister will stand on chairs, move furniture and position the plate to help me get a good food shot, whereas the other will be rolling her eyes and say can we just hurry up and eat now PLEASE. Meanwhile, Mamma Rosa will look around nervously and sometimes apologise to the wait staff while I tell her that honestly no one cares that I am taking photos. Don’t you love families – same gene pool, same upbringing, but often completely different output. Over lunch we bicker, we laugh, we chat, and generally drive each other crazy, while Mamma Rosa analyses and tells us she could have made all of this food for a fraction of the cost.
It’s the “middle sister’s” birthday this time (no middle child issues by the way, she’s the most confident and outrageous of all of us, and in her opinion, the best looking; I supposedly got the brains instead). So here we are at Via Alta in Willoughby which is the new venture of the lovely Alessandro Pavoni of Ormeggio and Alex Keene, Ormeggio’s former sous chef and CIRA’s 2013 Young Talent of the Year Winner. It was High Street Bistro, but the double-A team took it over, translated High Street to Via Alta and translated the menu as well. They thought the lower north shore needed a casual Italian trattoria – and they were right.
For stuzzichini (snacks) we start with the Calamari Fritti – feather light and delicious, we devoured them – and the Modeghini, the meatballs – which Middle Sister thought were great, Mamma Rosa thought were too dry, and I thought were okay.
We then tried sardines wrapped in prosciutto – so beautifully plated and really pleasant. Often I find when food gets wrapped in prosciutto and cooked, it is overpowered, but in this dish you still got the distinct taste of sardine.
The eggplant parmigiana was great though very rich, it’s a good dish to share.
On the pasta front we tried the pappardelle with oxtail ragu and the agnolotti with pork, burnt butter and sage. Both very rich dishes, and a truly excellent ragu. The pasta was probably a touch too al dente for me, but just a touch.
The braised lamb shoulder with pumpkin and spring vegetables was a gorgeous plate and tasted as good as it looked.
We really were too full for dessert, but there was birthday singing to be done, so we opted for the crostata with pear and pistachio. Velvety vanilla bean crème anglaise, could have had a bowl of that on its own, which complemented the crostata beautifully; suddenly I forgot that I was full.
This is hearty Italian fare touched with Ormeggio class – well done to the double-A team.
Via Alta, 197 High Street, Willoughby, Ph (02) 99581110