It’s hard to know where to draw the dining out line with the challenges posed by Covid-19, especially in the absence of strong leadership mapping out clear measures that will be implemented in the weeks ahead.
With infections still low in NSW, I popped into a nearly empty Osteria di Russo & Russo earlier this week; chasing the good lookin’ cooking of head chef Alex Wong (ex-Allegra Dining).
Wong dished up a smashing plate of toothsome, handmade wattleseed pappardelle with David Blackmore wagyu ragu and sweet bursts of native currants. If you’ve already made the decision to curtail your dining out, the restaurant is selling freezer packs of this dish as takeaway packs, along with home delivery to the Inner West.
For people who still wish to dine in, this 70s-inspired Italian restaurant, part of the Enmore landscape for the last seven years, has an old-school feel that might take you back to happier times. To put your mind at ease, the team here have increased the sanitation of the hands and surfaces, lowered their capacity to thirty people, and increased the spaces between tables to cover that meter and a half minimum distance between diners that NSW Health currently suggests.
Reading all that heavy stuff might mean you’re in need of a fancy Gin & Tonic. This restaurant delivers my favourite French gin, Gin Mare ($14) with a jug of house-made tonic. One sip of the nicely balanced drink sees me go hard on the tonic – it’s favoursome and light on bitterness.
I'm also a fan of their unnamed aperitivo teaming Tanqueray Gin ($18) with Aperol, balanced star anise, and plum, to make the most of the waning season.
We get stuck into our drinks with airy saltbush focaccia bread dragged through bright chilli and rosemary-infused olive oil. Aussie bushfood also makes an appearance with the first course of our Ultra Bene 7-Course Menu ($70/head): plump Pambula Oysters ($5/each) with their creaminess tempered with a native pepper mignonette.
Russo & Russo’s multi-course meals (they also do a five-course menu for ten bucks less) can be shaped to suit your dining proclivities. We left our dinner in Wong’s capable hands and quickly found ourselves cooing over the deceptive simplicity of a block of locally made Stracchino Cheese ($24). Teamed with a tangle of softened fennel, juicy black figs, green and smoked olives, dill and lemon myrtle, it's an all-of-mouth affair brimming with flavour.
Sinking your teeth into perfectly cooked Swordfish Belly ($24) is deeply pleasurable. The fat-dense fish is presented with a salty blend of zucchini, cannellini beans and squid ink, and – if I hadn’t eaten the pappardelle – it would have been my favourite dish.
Sardinian culurgiones see mashed spud packed neatly inside more perfectly cooked, hand-made pasta. The little pasta parcels are arranged - with Wong’s signature flair - against crisp Pecorino sails and a syrupy chicken jus.
Getting the most out of those waning blood plums, Wong interweaves them with pickled red cabbage leaves alongside a juicy, glazed duck breast. Dragged through dabs of cabbage puree, it’s an enjoyable end to the savoury part of our dinner.
Personable owner Marc Russo arrives at just the right moment with a digestive – his Dad’s nocino. It’s an amaro made from the outer skins of walnuts. It tastes like chinotto to me, and I find it easy to enjoy against Aged Asiago ($15). It’s a clever cheese course presented as crostini with muntries, balsamic and walnuts on lavosh.
Marc outlines the story of his father Pino’s immigration from Monte Di Procida, Napoli to Eastwood, and his former restaurant on Crown Street called Russo. These days his Dad is spending his retirement helping out by doing the market run to Flemington, and infusing boozy concoctions in the kitchen on weekends.
This is the kind of small business that will do it tough through further restrictions, cooking at a calibre that deserves you to find ways to support them with your spend. Banana Cream ($18) – banoffee pie taken to Italy with peanut brittle, salted caramel and shiso - might not travel all that well, but freezer-ready hampers of their handmade pastas ($18/each) will.
Osteria di Russo & Russo
158 Enmore Road, Enmore
Ph: (02) 8068 5202