This week, suburban gem Da Vinci’s Italian Restaurant jumped on the charcoal bandwagon in Summer Hill. They join restaurants like The Morrison Bar & Oyster Room, where Chef Sean Connolly has made a black hamburger bun; and Biota Dining, where Chef James Viles uses charcoal in a number of dishes. And while it sounds gimmicky, there’s actually form for using food-safe charcoal in pizza bases, both in Italy - where the charcoal powder owner Nicola Piteo is using originates - and here in Australia at venues including St Kilda pizzeria, Itali.co, and Northbeach Pavilion at picturesque North Wollongong Beach.
To my eye, Da Vinci’s entered the charcoal pizza race with a serious advantage – their 22 year old pizzaiolo, Nicolo' Ascanio, is already turning out some of the best pizza bases in Sydney.
He uses a 48-hour fermentation process, and stone ground type 1 Petra flour. However adding imported vegetarian charcoal powder to this tried and true process still required lots of experimentation. The powder, which costs around $160/kilo bonds to and absorbs the gluten, making the usual airy bubbles in the crust smaller. Each pizza ends up using less than a gram of charcoal.
Even with the slightly denser base, the black pizzas are delicious (dare I say, even more so than the regular Da Vinci’s stock). Charcoal is also said to have digestion and health properties (including binding to gas). I certainly found these pizzas ate well without leaving me feeling bloated - and I didn't hold back!
Piteo has carefully chosen three toppings that complement and contrast with the charcoal base. My favourite, Nerone ($23), sets off the unique blackened crusts with bright red and yellow capsicum, fior di latte and anchovies. The lively acidity of the topping provides an excellent contrast to the earthy, full-flavoured base.
You’ll also find a traditional Margherita ($24) and an even better Bordo ($23), topped with well-drained hunks of deep-fried eggplant, caramelised onion, and mixed mushrooms under white shavings of cacioricotta (salted ricotta).
"We don't put Parmesan like everyone else," laughs Piteo.
Over the course of the evening, I also tried out a number of off-menu items on the charcoal bases. I’m sure, if you’ve got a particular Da Vinci’s favourite, Piteo will encourage you to do the same. If you haven’t got a favourite, take your cue from Napoli with the salsiccia e friarielli, which employs sausage and slightly bitter greens only grown in Italy. It’s another winner on this particular base.
Chilli fans should ask for a black pizza topped with 'nduja and gooey white stracciatella di bufala (the heart of burrata cheese).
The black pizzas are already on the menu at Da Vinci’s, so head on down for a lovely al fresco dinner in the village like surrounds of Summer Hill. You can see for yourself whether there’s merit in the saying: once you go black, you never go back. You know, it might just be true...
25 Lackey Street, Summer Hill
Ph: (02) 9716 9000