Aperitivo time in Italy has been going on for much longer than the tapasisation of Sydney, so it’s strange that we don’t have more of it; but ooh-la-la have we got a fantastic intro here! I am totally kicking myself for not getting here sooner. It's five minutes from my house, and between 5pm and 7pm they offer up FREE FOOD with your normal priced after-work drinks.
Small, modern Italian plates from Joe Cavallo (ex-Mezzaluna) show an extraordinary lightness of touch. He combines flavours seamlessly - Cappesante ($18.50) seared scallops wrapped in pancetta on celeriac puree with port wine jus prove my point. Note that the pancetta is not over-cooked, allowing the unctuous texture of the scallop to roll around in your mouth uncontested. Nor is there too much pancetta, which can dominate combinations such as this.
I’m going out on a limb here and declaring his Tonno ($19.50) of impeccably seared yellow fin tuna with watermelon, watercress and wasabi the taste of Sydney’s imminent summer. I must eat this again. I must also make a cocktail at home involving vodka, watermelon and wasabi... Staying focused - it was a brilliant combination, the slices of watermelon explode wetly on your tongue against the textural beauty of the tuna with a slight bite from the carefully applied wasabi - fire and ice.
In my normal review I didn’t have room to dribble about his house-smoked Duck Breast Prosciutto ($15.50) but here I can, are you ready? The little bowl is Taleggio Mousse (I know, the mind boggles). At first I was quick to condemn it for not being hardcore enough (I love my stinky cheese) but that was because I tried it without the house-smoked duck prosciutto (yes, on my finger, my bad). The genius part of the dish is: the smokiness of the wafer thin duck breast slivers bring out the funkiness of the cheese.
This is the Carne Di Cervo ($22) – venison, chocolate, blueberries – need I say more? Okay, if you insist - the saute potatoes were spot on too, and it was the first time I'd seen the blueberry/chocolate/Bambi combination. I think it just beat Daniel Puskas' dish which has remained my best venison combination - chocolate soil, pumpkin puree and Denver leg - since 10 January, 2007 way back HERE!
All that aside, I just had Sydney’s best Neapolitan style pizza! (Yes, it’s the review of big calls.) I bow to the skill of Francesco Spataro and his truffle paste (who knew?) masterpiece, the Tartufo ($21). As you can see, it's a white pizza with cream of ricotta, Parmesan, Pancetta, Rocket and truffle paste - which basically as addictive as crack in a tube. Must buy - well when I have $65 odd dollars to blow on something other than...
I’d feel bad if I didn’t mention the owner Giuseppe Zagari is on the floor and oozes charm… but I am tired, so you’ll have to choose your own drinks. They’re great! Start with an Aperol Spritz ($12), it’s traditional; then leave yourself in Sydney Duckett’s (ex-Eleven) oh-so-capable hands. I am hoping to return to uncover his story later on... let's just say he was brave enough to say that he had been to (the) El Bulli, and he was bummed that they couldn't match wine to the onslaught of courses. When it's four disparate courses per matched wine, I wonder who could, but it gave me pause for thought! Must learn more...
163 Norton Street, Leichhardt
Ph: (02) 9564 0003
PS: If (like me) you don't have all those pesky Italian varietals and the location of each region sorted nicely in your head, seeing this in the wine list might make you very happy.