With Capriccio Osteria being located in my local ‘hood, I've followed it quite closely, hoping this modern Italian restaurant would survive and thrive in a strip that could be past its heyday. After a lackluster visit last year, I was pleased to get wind of them acquiring a new chef. It provided a good reason revisit, and, as it turned out, rediscover a much-improved restaurant.
The first thing I noticed was that it’s now owner Michele Rispoli heading up the floor, with Lucio Galletto’s son Matteo having returned to the fold. As it turns out, they’ve swapped him with another Lucio’s import – Head Chef Nicole Bampton. Bampton's claim to fame is being the only woman to hold down two chefs' hats in the Good Food Guide for four years running. Despite this remarkable achievement, she’s quite shy and humble.
“I’m very lucky - she's also my girlfriend,” said Rispoli as he hands over Bampton's new menu. We’re seated on the ground floor of his sunny yellow, two-storey restaurant, where I’m also pleased to report, Rispoli has swapped out the high tables and bar stools for normal height tables and chairs.
Wanting to wash away the taste of a hectic workday, we quickly secure a pair of Gin Rosso ($16) cocktails. They team gin and Aperol with fresh, seasonally appropriate blood orange juice; and represent a tart, fresh reminder that spring has well and truly sprung. Our table is quickly flooded with small plates from the appealingly succinct menu.
With pretty new share-plates with lemon yellow logo branding on hand, we dig in. Leek and Taleggio Arancini ($15) are crisp and tasty; and further improved by a smear of pumpkin seed pesto. They manage to convert even my most skeptical dining companion, a sad victim of arancini-overload when all Sydney Opera House events were catered by Matt Moran’s company.
Prosciutto Parma ($12) had been swapped out for Culatello on the night we dined. We counted ourselves as particularly lucky to be wrapping pieces of this thinly sliced, slightly drier and tastier cured pig product around warm fingers of House-Made Rosemary Focaccia ($5). It's now replacing prosciutto on my shopping list at home.
A small pot of Chicken Liver Pate ($9) gives a modern Italian take on a wider European dish by using a mandarin jelly topper. The pate is tasty and super fine, and accompanied by precisely the right number of hazelnut crisps.
The showstopper was a seasonal Wagyu Beef Rump Carpaccio ($35). Super-thin beef slices arrive adorned with truffle mayonnaise and Jerusalem artichoke crisps. They are then finished at the table with a generous number of black truffle slices, shaved by hand in a pungent cloud.
It’s earthy and wonderfully textural - a truly sublime finale to this year’s truffle season.
While the carpaccio was admittedly quite fancy, Bampton has walked a good line with the menu, leaving diners the option to duck in on a weeknight for a bowl of hand-made pasta and a glass of wine. Ravioli ($28) filled with pumpkin and ricotta (that keeps them from being over-sweet) are well-handled in sage brown butter. They’re simply presented with a scattering of almonds and freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano if you so desire.
Even better is Bampton's Saffron Fettuccine ($28) presented in a golden tangle under slow cooked lamb shoulder, pistachios and luminous white shavings of ricotta salata. This dish shows remarkable restraint, with lean lamb tamed into something that still lets the subtle ribbons of freshly-made pasta speak. Throw in a glass of the 2014 Cantine Vernaccia ($15) from Sardegna, Italy – a citrusy wine that has the weight of an unwooded chardonnay - and you could walk into the night after a satisfying, one-course midweek meal.
It would however be a shame to miss out on a slice of Sydney’s impending summer – a cool green Basil Panna Cotta ($13) with slow-roasted pineapple. There’s also a black-on-black Liquorice Ice Cream Drowned in Espresso ($10) that’s so moody, light seems to fall into the glass. "Not many people make a dessert that tastes like the extinction of all life forms," my dining companion quips. I find it appeals to my nihilism.
I leave smiling, because Capriccio Osteria just delivered me the best meal I’ve eaten in this space.
NOTE: You can read previous reviews of this venue (under other chefs) back HERE and HERE.
Capriccio Osteria & Bar
159 Norton Street, Leichhardt
Ph: (02) 9572 7607