Heading up the kitchen in an everyday Italian restaurant on the competitive Norton Street strip, doesn’t always give chef Nicole Bampton the chance to flex her formidable skills. The Capriccio Osteria & Bar team, which includes Bampton’s partner and restaurateur Michele Rispoli, have devised a series of regionally inspired dinners to give her the opportunity to have some fun in the kitchen.
For their recent Roman Festa ($65/head), Bampton spent hours trawling ancient Roman recipes to present a five-course banquet that started with shapely knobs of rustic bread. With cuts placed in the top of each knob, it was up to the friendly group of diners gathered in the sunny yellow upstairs dining room, to rip it apart and consume it with olive oil and aged balsamic vinegar.
What’s bread without wine, whatever the era you’re dining in? Our tablemate, Poppy Gresson from Fourth Wave Wine, reckons that “Grigio is where Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc drinkers meet in the middle.” She gets our table onto brightly coloured bottles of the 2017 Fontavera Pinot Grigio ($55/bottle) from Venezia at the base of the Alps.
It’s pale in the glass and easy to like with juicy pear and flinty stone that suit our fried green olives stuffed with pork mince. All the pork Bampton employed across this banquet menu was Australian pork.
With the PorkStar team partnering in the event, they were on hand to give it their pink PorkMark. This is basically their seal of approval, which you can look for when buying pork to ensure it's Australian-grown rather than imported.
Luganega sausage showcased Aussie pig quite wonderfully. Presented on braised lentils cooked with carrot and celery brunoise, the smooth coil of sausage was gently seasoned with aniseed in accordance with the old recipes.
We break up the all-porcine feast with free range chicken rubbed with coriander seed then roasted inside a pancetta sheath. It’s served on farro (an ancient, cultivated grain) and roasted root vegetables, like juicy baby turnips. It's a well-handled, simple and old-fashioned dish that sees me reaching for the tongs more than once.
The showpiece of the menu is rolled Roman porchetta that arrives, along with the chef, to be carved in the dining room. “I tried to use what they used back then,” Bampton explains her menu, before adding that ancient Romans used a lot of spices we might not regularly use in the same dishes today. This is how aniseed appeared in the sausage, and the porchetta came to be rolled with apricot and fennel.
Like Bampton's everyday menu, it’s honest, good-tasting food, presented in a way you generally wouldn’t normally be able to experience when dining as a pair. Plus there's the pleasure of being part of a convivial dining room, watching as your host, Rispoli, carves the head-on porchetta, his knife sinking into its crisp and crackly skin.
Soon we're all eating generous slices of this great tasting pig against simple cauliflower and white beans, just like the ancient Romans.
Bampton returns to the kitchen to prepare our cheeky 'Sanguinaccio Dolce' dessert. Almond biscotti arrive just before long, fragrant shot glasses of dark chocolate and blood orange custard. We find the biscuits hard to stay away from; laughing to find out they also contain pig. Who knew pork lard would be the missing ingredient to soften, enrich and improve the humble biscotti?
Dipping it in warm chocolate doesn’t hurt either.
This communally shared feed felt more honest than gimmicky, and was a loving ode to my favourite meat. If you’d like to take part in their next regional feast, it is focused upon Liguria - think stuffed squid and handmade pasta. It’s slated for Thursday 20 December and you’d be wise to book in quickly here: https://capriccio.sydney/events
Capriccio Osteria & Bar
159 Norton Street, Leichhardt
Ph: (02) 9572 7607
NOTE: See a review of the ala carte menu HERE.