Raffaele Scandura had a dream. He wanted to leave asset management at the Macquarie Bank, and do something he loved before the age of thirty. Hearing this story, it made me smile to see a bouquet of 30th birthday balloons, in colours appropriate to a Great Gatsby-themed party, still propped in one corner of his new, Matraville restaurant.
As is appropriate to a heart-project, the name, Vivaldi: Italian Kitchen & Pizza, is a nod to the owner’s childhood, during which he played the violin. It’s also the best lead-in to ordering a four seasons (quattro stagioni) pizza I’ve ever heard, but somehow I get sidetracked into the signature Vivaldi Calzone ($24).
I’m not complaining – this folded pizza gives me a real chance to get acquainted with their base, the building block of all good pizza. Done in a Roman style, this base has a lightness that only comes from using good, Italian 00 grade flour and letting the dough rest and rise for a long time. While I’d like to taste a bit more expression from their gas-assisted, wood-fire oven, I’m quite pleased with this calzone. It's filled with a simple blend of quality ham, ricotta, basil, Parmigiano-Reggiano and bright tomato sauce that complements, rather than overpowers the flavoursome base.
Where I do taste some welcome char is in the wood-fired bread accompanying Salsiccia e Fagioli ($16). This bowl of lean, pork and fennel sausages (made at a local butcher to a Vivaldi recipe) and tender borlotti beans, comes in a tomato sauce that has that unmistakable tangy yet sweet San Marzano flavour. (These bright red, Italian plum tomatoes are the best canned tomatoes I've tried.)
More charry, delicious bread comes with a bowl of baked octopus – Moscardii e Piselli ($16) - studded with green peas in another tomato-based sauce.
Yes, the menu here is definitely southern Italian – Raffaele’s mother grew up near Naples, and his dad is Sicilian.
I enjoy these dishes with bottled beer - a fruity Baladin Isaac ($10) and an even better Baladin Rock’n’Roll ($10) with a whisker of pepper.
Vivaldi also offer two on-tap beers and a short list of very reasonably priced Italian and Australian wines ($28-49/bottle).
I’d look toward wine to accompany their pastas, including a special of Pear and Gorgonzola-stuffed Tortelli ($28) topped with two tasty king prawns.
The prawns come from a local seafood store, just across the road. While he doesn’t have any hospitality experience to speak of, what Raffaele does have is a firm commitment to quality. His mother owned a deli in Balgowlah where she wouldn’t stock any products she wouldn’t eat herself, and this sort of philosophy has clearly rubbed off on Raffaele. As such, Vivaldi is certainly delivering a higher standard of ingredient than I expected from the menu, the look of the place, and the location.
The only slight niggles I can find are that it’s over-lit and the toilets are in the neighbouring Woolworths, but even these fade from my mind when the Passionfruit Panna Cotta ($12) hits the table. Wobbling provocatively, this creamy dessert is a definite grin-inducing winner, juxtaposed with enough acidity to make it lively and palate-refreshing.
Vivaldi: Italian Kitchen & Pizza
3/495 Bunnerong Road
Ph: (02) 9311 1554