“Why mess with zucchini flowers, Nonnas have been making them for hundreds of years,” cries Claudia, my Italian hairdresser, when I describe owner/chef Matteo Zamboni’s Zucchini Flowers ($22).
While capturing all the flavours of this classic Italian dish, Zamboni’s version confounds expectations by presenting a mix of sautéed zucchini, honeydew melon, puffed spelt and almond polenta under a goats' milk skin that's created using agar-agar. Aside from a few fresh flower slices up top giving you a hint, it could be a bowl of Italian breakfast cereal. Like his previous mentor – Heinz Beck (La Pergola, Italy) – Zamboni is fond of playing with expectations. For some diners that will work, for others it will not.
That’s not to say there isn’t flexibility in this restaurant. In the five months since opening they’ve retreated from being a solely four- or six-course affair, by adding an a la carte menu. I’d recommend taking on the 4-Course Degustation ($70/head) regardless, as four-course meals are pretty much the Italian way.
Throw in a snack – The Pie the Wanted to be a Pizza ($9/each) – while you contemplate the wine list. This tasty Aussie-Italian throw-down is one part party pie, the other part margherita pizza.
While predominantly Italian, the wine list does also offer spattering of Australian wines. Consider though leaving yourself in the hands of the gun floor team with either a matched wine package ($50/head) or a recommendation triangulated from your own stylistic preferences. The 2015 Ca dei Frati Lugana DOC Trebbiano di Lugana ($98) was a great choice for me: fruit-driven and delicately floral, with some bolder mineral notes, and enough acid to keep it interesting across the whole meal.
With a side bowl of dehydrated Swiss, button and porcini mushroom rubble, Mezzi Rigatoni alla ‘Boscaiola’ ($24) peels back boscaiola to its constituent parts. Topped with chestnut mushrooms, the end result scratches the same itch, while keeping the pleasure of sliding your teeth into perfectly cooked short pasta tubes, as the central feature of the dish.
There’s a bit less reimagining in the main courses. Swordfish ($31) and Lamb ‘Porchetta’ ($33) both arrive looking pretty much as you'd expect them to in any classy Italian restaurant. Where they diverge from the norm however, is in their clever incorporation of Austra-liano.
Native finger lime jazzes up the caper and parsley sauce adorning your swordfish, and, perhaps a bit less successfully because of the intensity of lamb fat, sheep replaces pig in Zamboni’s ‘porchetta’.
Under a snowy dusting of burnt butter powder, a quenelle of silky White Chocolate and Sage Gelato ($15) delicately perches on a double layer of vanilla mascarpone and scarlet-hued, rhubarb and plum gel. Capped off with crisp sage leaves, this is the ultimate reconfiguration of the burnt butter and sage sauce most commonly seen in a pasta course. It’s both imaginative and on-theme Austra-liano, by its use of locally grown Davidson plums. It's also so ridiculously delicious, my Italian hairdresser agrees she’d like to hit it up as well.
4-5/355 Crown Street, Surry Hills
Ph: (02) 8937 3599