The welcome at Vizio Caffè e Cucina feels warm and syrupy. It’s a family-run business headed up by the Fuscaldo family, the people behind Portobello Caffe in Circular Quay, and Ragu Pasta & Wine Bar in Westfield Sydney.
Their latest venture is set on the lower part of William Street, close to the Australian Museum.
General Manager Matia Zoffoli, who married into the family, leads an engaged and enthusiastic Italian team who are keen to convey both food and culture.
This sentiment is echoed in the beverage list – one of the best I’ve seen – that lays out so many ways to drink, you are likely to have trouble choosing.
While their aperitivo selection of nine Italian and two Australian liqueurs each drunk as The Spritz begs a “bitter” exploring, I couldn’t take my eyes off their signature cocktail list. It’s an all-thriller-no-filler selection of innovative and unique cocktails, including one that uses smoked buffalo mozzarella.
Obviously I had to order this drink, named for the former King of Italy, Umberto I ($18). Blended with basil infused Malfy gin and clear tomato water, this cocktail drinks like a Bloody Mary dressed in sheep’s clothing. Strangely, I was even more taken with Palma ($18) which, through judicious use of roasted capsicum, pineapple, Red Okar and turmeric soda, still managed to showcase Arette tequila.
You could enjoy either drink with the colourful Burrata and Eggplant Salad ($20).
The lightly creamy Umberto I would play nicely against the salad’s imported artisan burrata and heirloom tomatoes; while the Palma's smoky tequila will complement the dish's clever smear of smoky eggplant puree.
Beer is another highlight with more than fourteen on offer, including a wide range of Italian craft beers. Brewfist “La Bassa” ($11) from Lombardia in Northern Italy is a nice place to start – a quaffable Italian lager with grassy hops and enough bitterness to keep it from being boring. Mastr Birrai Umbri 14 ($18) has more going on, including some of that banana-like ester I’m not quite so fond of.
Formaggi and salumi each command their own page of the menu, allowing you to construct a platter that best addresses your personal meat and cheese proclivities. The resulting platter is a feast for the eyes and palate, with presentation, freshness and good storage notching it up into one of the best cheese boards I’ve had in Sydney.
Your must-tries are smooth, spreadable and spicy Nduja ($7.80/50g) from Byron Bay; sharp yet sweet Testun al Barolo ($9.40/50g) coated in pressed red wine grapes; and Pecorino al Tartufo ($9.40/50g), which had more truffle intensity than any other truffled cheese I’ve tried.
Punctuating each cheesy exploration with equally good olives, I muse this is probably what will drag me back to Vizio Caffè e Cucina soonest.
Topped with Avruga caviar and gooey stracciatella cheese, freshly made Prawn Ravioli ($30) is a sophisticated modern Italian dish. While it sounds rich and decadent, the sauce contains just a whisker of cream, with the intensity further tamed by bright cherry tomatoes and broccolini. Restraint means the focus remains where it should be - on the silky and technically precise pasta purses of tasty, toothsome prawn-meat.
We finally get to wine with the Filleto di Manzo ($39) – a 250g grass fed Black Angus beef fillet. It’s a cracking beef dish enhanced with sour carrot purée, burnt leek and roast heirloom carrots that is as eye-catching as it is delicious. If I wasn’t so gaga about being given a new way to explore and understand wine, I am sure I’d have cooed over the charred edges and centre you could split with a fork.
However I was too busy learning about skin contact, first with Swinging Bridge Amber Field Blend 003 ($10/100ml), a soft and accessible ‘orange wine’ (that is also from Orange) that sits on the skins for twenty days. Next I tried a wine from Matia’s home region, Emilia-Romagna, called Vej Bianco Antico 2014 ($12/100ml). This wine spends 9 months on skins producing a complexity that I could talk about for days, and flavours I’ve never experienced before in a wine. I tried a few more wines, each presented with tiny tasting notes you can even take away with you, but this list and this restaurant begs for further exploration.
Vizio Caffè e Cucina
Shop 1, 52-58 William Street, Woolloomooloo
Ph: (02) 9358 2231