“We should go together one night to Pasta Emilia. I think her pasta is the best in town, organic Italian flour and the best eggs available,” said my mate Jason Moss, a popular Darlinghurst jeweller. I didn’t need much cajoling. My last experience with purchasing Pasta Emilia linguini from Iggy’s Bread in Bronte had resulted in a bowl of pasta so good, I went back to buy more pasta the very next week only to be thwarted by an empty fridge shelf. What I didn’t find out until later, was that Jason had a connection to owner Anna Maria Eoclidi that would afford me the opportunity to hear the story behind her successful pasta operation…
Swathed in yellow light, the Riley Street warehouse is home to a pasta kitchen, cooking school, shop and restaurant.
With exposed rafters and communal wooden tables decorated with fresh flowers, the long convivial space has the orderly clutter of a lived-in rural kitchen. Neat rows of pickle jars line the white shelves down one side. On the other there’s a well stocked bar sitting behind a counter that ends with a shiny meat slicer.
The slicer is put to good effect on the Salume Misto e Torta Fritta ($28) – a rustic board of thinly sliced cold cuts, including Italian mortadella that I particularly enjoyed laid over the airy, crimped pockets of fried bread.
Against a biodynamic 2016 Chardonnay Per Antoine ($68) from Verona, Italy, the cold cuts create a bridge from my hard work day and unwinding into dinner with friends. With minerality and gentle oak, the chardonnay was an elegant entry point into what proved to be an unusual wine list - one where I was grateful to have a guide.
With my Sydney share house years spent with Adelaide-born chefs, I developed a bit of an aversion to their beloved sparkling Shiraz. So I’m surprised when Eoclidi gets me to enjoy an effervescent red. “In Italy we call it vivacious,” she explains, alluding to the fact that the 2016 La Barabina Bonarda Frizzante ($45) is less fizzy than a sparkling wine. Drunk from little ceramic cups, in Italy it would have been taken straight from the cellar, though the Australian climate may warrant a touch of refrigeration. It’s deep red and has some red berry sweetness, but also plenty of tang.
It's the preferred post-work drop of older Italian men who work all day in the fields, and then come home to drink it with Pane Salame Burro alle acciughe e Gutturnio in scodella ($23). Presented on house-made, thickly buttered bread, this combination of salty anchovies and salami is a bit of a revelation! And how much better is food when you get to hear the story behind the way that it is traditionally enjoyed?
As Anna outlines her eclectic career that has spanned a number of creative pursuits from dancing to jewellery making, which she studied with my mate, Jason Moss, we graze across the table. Proscuitto e Stracchino ($22) takes gentle sweet-cured ham and teams it with soft, white Emelian cheese on rustic, house-made bread or crusty Iggy’s sourdough that harks back to a connection that Anna built when she first started making pasta in Bronte.
With the weather warming, cooked vegetables have given way to seasonal salads, allowing you to team your pasta with fresh mixed leaves in Insalata Stagionata con olio e balsamico ($14).
Alternatively you can take things antipasto-style with little roll-ups of grilled eggplant and asparagus spears, or Insalata Caprese ($14) that pays homage to the colours of the Italian flag. Everything is fresh, well dressed and seasoned.
The main event is, of course, the pasta and, after getting her fill of fine dining extravagance by running a 200-seat restaurant in a huge antiques store in Italy, Anna has kept things nice and simple.
My favourite is Pisarei e Faso ($25) – true ‘cucina povera’ (poor people’s food) where gnocchetti are created from baked seasoned breadcrumbs (yesterday's bread) and cooked in a sauce with lard and borlotti beans. It had me longing for a childhood I never had, far away from dishes like apricot chicken. Tortelli di Granchio e gamberetti all’arrabiata ($36) feels more upmarket, but cleverly keeps your focus on the eye-catching half-black, half-white pasta pockets filled with crab, prawn and a hint of lemon rind, using a judicious application of chilli tomato sauce.
Tortelli di Raparossa e caprino con Cavolo Nero e salsa verde ($32) see the toothsome tortelli take on a pale pink hue courtesy of their beetroot and chèvre interiors, under a scattering of crisp kale. By this stage I resolve quietly to try to cook these pastas better at home, following the timing instructions more precisely to end up with the same bite. I wonder aloud about whether Sydneysiders cope with toothsome pasta, and ask if there have been any Pasta Emilia inventions that we haven't liked?
“I’ve had a lot of trouble selling my rabbit, but I still try,” muses Anna, going on to explain her new vegan range. While I’d go the bunny, I suspect vegan pasta might be a bridge too far for me. Anna is, however, quite persuasive about its success. I find my curiosity grows as I nibble on dessert – fig pannacotta, tiramisu and cheese - more as a foil to my house-made digestivo: Emilian Nocino - Walnut Liquor ($10), than a course onto themselves. Maybe I'll need to come back and give this vegan pasta a whirl.
259 Riley Street, Surry Hills
Ph: (02) 9212 1069