I tried three dishes at The Italian Guild and I’ve already incorporated two of them into my home repertoire. Wanting to eat something again is pretty much the highest praise a food writer can give a restaurant, and with this one being on NSW's South Coast, cooking their dishes at home was the easiest way to achieve this.
Set in a small cluster of shops at the north end of Milton’s main drag, this dual-purpose business is a Coffee Guild by day, and The Italian Guild by night. It’s the brainchild of Stefano Vinetti, who hails from Milan, Italy - in case you hadn’t guessed from the giant city map taking up one wall. Despite the restaurant being rammed at seven o’clock on a Sunday night, Stefano quickly sets us up with an inside table (you can also dine al fresco in their courtyard) and an Italian white. The 2013 ‘Lento’ Greco Lemezia DOC ($42) from Calabria, Italy starts with a sharp acidity and austere minerality, though it has fruity, apricot notes that emerge with later dishes.
It’s certainly palate cleansing against Wood-Fired and Truffle Pancetta Oysters ($26/6). This Italian answer to Oysters Kilpatrick is a genius update that employs pancetta and black truffle and balsamic reduction to great effect on locally farmed oysters.
Having gathered my own haul of Narooma and Clyde River oysters on my way back up the coast, this is the first dish idea I put to good use at home.
The second recipe I fell in love with was Penne Vassallo ($24) - made on fusilli on the evening I dined. The unapologetically machine-made spiral pasta is perfect as a sauce delivery system for a recipe that comes from Vassallo restaurant in Italy. Being the son of a truffle producer, Stefano, got the restaurant's proprietor a good deal on truffles in exchange for permission to make his dish outside of Italy. It’s a five-hour cook of coarse-cut mince in a cream-tamed tomato sauce with Swiss brown mushrooms, a tiny amount of parsley and a whole lot of love.
Coming from a truffle family, Stefano knows how to use this luxury product properly as a structural element that gives a distinct, earthy mid-palate. As Stefano explains, his father used to come home quite regularly and say: "Guess what, we're eating truffle tonight." This provided him with an opportunity for broader experimentation, and a firm understanding that truffle and lipids (fats) go hand in hand. That's why Stefano is combining truffles with pancetta in the oysters, with cream in the pasta, and with Parma prosciutto on the Tartufo Pizza ($26).
The handcrafted pizzas here are a fusion between Neapolitan and Roman styles. Stefano chose this because he hates dough so thick there are uncooked bits, but is equally unhappy with dough that is too crisp. The house-style represents a midpoint between the two regions, with the dough proofed for 48-hours. The resulting bases are smeared with canned Italian tomato that’s been blitzed with salt and basil, then frugally topped, so you can appreciate the complexity of their flavour. Pizza, after all, is about more than just toppings; but that's not to belie the beauty of the Italian mozzarella, black truffle cream cheese, Parma prosciutto and white truffle oil on this one!
Stuffed on three courses of truffles, we didn’t quite have room for Stefano’s famous strawberry tiramisu, but after the success of these dishes, it has been placed firmly in my mind for next time I’m driving through Milton. Thanks to the Australian Good Food Guide for the heads up about this excellent spot - the food is great, and the warm Italian hospitality and storytelling only add to its appeal.
The Italian Guild
Shop 3, 65 Princes Highway, Milton
Ph: (02) 4454 5143