The 24 year old Italian

It’s no secret that I love to eat Italian food. So when it was my turn to pick a Sydney restaurant to celebrate an early Christmas and mark the end of a brilliant year with friends, I drew up a shortlist of ten restaurants of which quite a few were Italian. The criteria was simple…..bloody great food required! From a bit of simple research, reading this and that – this is what I came up with:

1. Sepia

2. La Scala

3. The Devonshire

4. Almond Bar

5. Il Perugino

6. A Tavola

7. Assiette

8. Duke Bistro

9. Sake 

10. Buzo

I questioned do I try somewhere new that has had rave reviews or do I book somewhere tried and true. After some discussion with Mr ELG, I went with the latter.

Numero cinque; Il Perugino

I first went to Il Perugino 11 years ago. Memories of that night are bloody great food, no menus with the waiter telling you what is being served instead and lots of people talking, chatting and simply enjoying their food. Over the years I have been back numerous times and the memory never changes; just the people at my table and the food of course, as the seasons change. Situated on Avenue Road in Mosman, Sydney next door to the drycleaners, Il Perugino has been in the same place for 24 years, run by passionate people who describe the menu to you like poetry. Last night as I was listening to the menu (they did introduce postcard menus a couple of years back but go through the detail all the same), I was salivating from one course to the next and the food wasn’t even in front of me yet. At the next table, a man was devouring a steaming bowl of fresh seafood while his friend had ordered the lamb shank and I watched the meat just melt away from the bone. With Antipasti on the way, this menu had too many choices; a lovely position to be in rather than no inspiration at all.

Teasing the tastebuds, the Antipasti was laid in front of us and did not fail to excite. Button mushrooms, artichoke hearts, mussels, fritters and eggplant swooped in seconds.

Next up for me were the duck, sage and burnt butter crepes. Mr ELG ordered the salmon carpaccio. One word; delicious. Actually two words; magnificently delicious!

As a main, Mr ELG and I ordered the same dish (very rare) and again, from the kitchens of Il Perugino came a marvelous flavour from such simple ingredients; pappardelle, zucchini, garlic, olive oil, parsley and vongole.

We couldn’t not eat dessert and the four of us with no hesitation each ordered a sweetie with the promise to share. The tiramisu was tantalising, the limoncello cheesecake with baked rhubarb and blood orange gelato was so refreshing, the warm apple and walnut cake was comforting and the passion-fruit creme brulee made it hard to share!

As I looked around the room last night on the Tuesday before Christmas, all the tables were full and there were babies, children, young and old enjoying the moorish moments. Il Perugino is a local to be loved and in fact, numero uno in my mind.

Il Perugino @ 171 Avenue Road, Mosman Sydney 2088

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Ms.G or was that MSG?

When MSG  (aka Monosodium glutamate commonly used in Chinese food as a flavour enhancer) is added to a dish, the initial reaction is “hmmm, tastes so good!” It’s only when you leave the restaurant and you have this unmistakeable thirst or even worse; a throbbing migraine that the latter reaction is “they must have put MSG in.” Disappointment, especially in this day and age when there are limitless real flavours and ingredients you can add to effectively enhance the taste of a dish.

Ironically I liken my experience of new Potts Point, Sydney showpony “Ms. G” to its namesake MSG. We Sydneysiders are a fickle bunch. Quick to try a new restaurant/bar/cafe, quicker to pack inside like sardines so there’s no option but to try and remain effortlessly chic and absolutely not squashed or sweaty as you cosy up next to a complete stranger and their skin whilst trying to hold your ground of 2cm squared and balance a cocktail and smile at the same time.

Saturday night in Sydney; 7.30pm. Let’s go to Ms. G. It’s the new Hemmes place with the chef from Lotus at Potts Point; it’s meant to be fab!! Upon arrival to its Victoria Street location, it all looks good. What must have once been a stately Victorian terrace in its day has now been gutted and warehoused into a thriving and buzzing money machine of 5 levels where plenty of people were already seated and in the throes of eating, drinking and revelling in their Saturday night sensations. People were spilling out on to the pavement, confident lasses held pens and clipboards trying to manage a growing list of names and contact numbers against a ticking clock and me and Mr EatLoveGo (ELG) barged our way through, heading up to the top level bar where friends were already patiently waiting, names on the list, passing the time sipping cocktails. “They said a table will be ready at 9pm”. Hmmm, a 90minute wait for what was supposed to be THE food to be had – that’s reasonable I guess for somewhere that has a no-booking policy, right?

Upstairs the atmosphere was going off; literally. 3 flustered bar staff were attempting to serve a growing number of patrons. Seat options were either a sunken wall lounge or low wooden stools. Others wanting to rest their feet were perched on the funky looking compacted boxes tied with string-serving as makeshift tables for drinks as maintaining more than your own personal space became a little luxury leaving your grasp. Mr ELG stepped up to the bar responsible for the next round of drinks for the group. Slowly swallowed by more and more patrons, Mr ELG disappeared into the crowd edging closer and closer to the bar and buying his round when I heard someone say “Where’s Mr ELG? Is he still at the bar getting drinks?” 45 minutes had gone by and it was obvious that Ms. G needed to get more than 3 staff manning this bar as the round had still not appeared. 15 more minutes passed and I finally saw his hand reach through the crowd with each of our drinks being passed through one by one. Mr ELG himself finally appeared; flustered being an understatement and I began to see those nasty effects of MSG starting to take its toll. To top it off, one of our group had gone downstairs to get an update from clipboard-girl and what was originally a confident “you’ll be seated by 9pm” had become “there’s still about 8 groups in front of you and it’s unlikely you will be seated before 10pm.”

Hmmm reasonable I think not and a clarity on what inevitably makes us so fickle. All it takes is just one hint of bad service or an unreasonable wait time of over 2 hours to eat or 1 hour to quench your thirst and a foul taste is left in my mouth despite a want and desire to try the newest destination in town. Running a successful restaurant that ticks all the boxes from the first day is a tough gig. I grew up with a Dad who opened many. Some worked and some didn’t. It’s not enough to have a great location, gorgeous interior, a tantalising menu, a damn good wine list and enough bodies to take the orders. Essential ingredients for success at any restaurant/cafe/bar are also the friendly and attentive staff who are honest and gracious, a point of difference to survive in our fickle, harbour-loving landscape and may I ask; who invented no bookings anyway? As someone who loves to eat and dine outside of my kitchen; I would rather hear “We’re fully booked” to “um…it’s about a 2 hour wait; give me your mobile number and I will call you when a table is ready.” Certainty is much better than hopes being dashed when no one bothers to call at all especially when you’re still at the pub down the road waiting for the phone to ring and the stomach is still rumbling.

As we left Ms. G, famished but en route to a place that took a last minute booking, conversation turned to its long-standing neighbours on Victoria Street Jimmy Liks and Mezzaluna. We all agreed Jimmy Liks has such yummy food and great cocktails and “it’s still packed after 10 years; geez they must be doing something right” and Mezzaluna has “such a great view and yummy Italian food too”. It was refreshing to realise that some destinations surpass the fickle hill and last the distance despite their neighbours changing names and paint colours every season.

I don’t know if I will go back and try to get an elusive table at Ms. G again as there are so many more places that keep popping up in Sydney town and unfortunately I am fickle just like the rest of them. For now though, I think I’ll call A Tavola, a favourite that has surpassed and is a stayer that takes bookings!

Ms. G @ 155 Victoria Street Potts Point NSW 2011

Published in: on February 4, 2011 at 4:11 am  Leave a Comment  
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an unspoken universal language; even in Rome

What are the signs of a top restaurant and I am not just talking about the ones with hats and stars? I’m talking about the restaurants that you walk past that you have never eaten in before but you can sense the electric atmosphere and you can see people are really enjoying their food. These are the restaurants that are packed with people and there’s usually a lot of noise and more often a queue just to get a seat, especially when it’s a cafe and there’s a queue at 9am on a Sunday. Flat White Cafe on Jersey Road Woollahra, Sydney is like this. Or when you walk past a Chinese restaurant and you see that everyone is actually Chinese, that’s usually a good sign too.

I was in Rome last year and my man and I were wandering around aimlessly taking in all of the great sights one sees in the eternal city. We were doing one of those night walks and discovering the city spontaneously without a map. We had eaten near the Spanish Steps, seen the Trevi Fountain at night and had just walked through Piazza Navona when we suddenly found ourselves smack bang in Campo dei Fiori and were immediately met with the hustle and bustle of people having a great night out. There were a couple of buskers creating atmosphere with their live jazz quartet and all of the square’s restaurants had tables right out on to the pavement and people were vying for these seats. Our walk took us down a narrow street where there were mainly clothing stores and up ahead we noticed some bright lights and locals casually standing there excitedly speaking Italian whilst drinking wine and having a smoke. Walking past, we glanced behind the Italians and I instantly had the understanding that this was a top restaurant. I didn’t need to read any good food guide or speak Italian to know that this was a local’s favourite and not a tourist trap that only served bolognese and lasagne. Through their glass window I could see walls of wine, numerous salami rolls hanging from the ceiling and stacks of cheese in a chilled display. It wasn’t packed, but was busy enough and I knew I needed to come back to this place before I left Rome despite feeling incredibly full after my recent dinner.

Two nights later we came back to Roscioli. I discovered that the wall of wine was not just at the front but all through the restaurant on both sides and even lining the stairs down to the private room below. Our table was right near the cheese fridge and I remember looking at all of the different varieties of mozzarella, gorgonzola and pecorino (just to name a few). I watched the chef prepare someone’s meal and hold every piece of buffalo mozzarella like it was a precious gem before carefully cutting it and arranging it delicately on the plate. Our waiter came to us and was instantly amused that we didn’t speak a word of Italian yet managed to brief us on all of the day’s specials and take us knowledgeably through the menu. My man and I decided to create a degustation for ourselves so we could experience and eat as much off the menu in one sitting. By 8pm, Roscioli was packed with other people eating their way through the extensive menu and I could feel a similar electric atmosphere as I would do in A Tavola in Darlinghurst, Sydney or at Cafe Sopra in Waterloo, Sydney. Every plate we ate off was delicious, delectable, mouth-watering and encompassed a million taste sensations. The produce was fresh and of optimum quality and the wines we drank matched the flavours completely.

We left Roscioli that night feeling a sense of complete satisfaction and for many nights after we raved about the restaurant, thinking back to how thin and delicious the carpaccio was and how decadent the chocolate fondant was… I know when I go back to Rome next time that this place is top of my list to return to, just so I can make my way through more of the menu!

Via dei Giubbonari, 21. 00186 Rome

Published in: on April 4, 2010 at 1:47 pm  Leave a Comment  
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