Sydney’s top five Little Italy eateries, CNN // 27 June 2011

Read my piece over at CNNGo.com or read on here…

In Sydney’s Little Italy, all things Italian permeate life like garlic in a ragu, and a journey reveals the real taste of Italian cooking. From pizzas to espressos, the delissimo grip on Sydney’s gastronomic landscape is as entrenched and authentic as ever.

Long synonymous with Italian life in Australia, Leichhardt has been attracting hot-blooded Mediterraneans to its terraced streets since the 1940s and 1950s. Branching out from the epicentre of Italian-ness on Norton Street, the march soon spread around the inner west to Haberfield and Five Dock.

Italian businesses thrive in the area and none more so than cafés and restaurants. As well as the crowd-pleasers on Norton Street, there’s a colony of gelato-dripping, pizza-dough flinging, espresso-soaked eateries that put Italian food across the rest of the city to shame.

Rome may have fallen, but things seem alive and well in Sydney’s inner west. Here’s the best.

1. Pizza at Napoli in Bocca

Napoli in Bocca

One of 250 dough-flipped pizzas from the weekend menu at Napoli in Bocca

There are few better simple pleasures than a proper pizza. The pinnacle of pizza perfection, though, is often hard to find — distracted as we are by topping-laden pies and extra cheese. At Napoli in Bocca, the humble pizza is elevated to a work of beauty.

The enormous wood-fired oven is a wonderful thing in itself, but the real art of juggling 250 pizzas every weekend evening is something that can’t be taught. Each base is hand-flung then shuffled around varying heats of the cavernous oven before emerging golden, puffy and steaming.

The trick, apparently, is utter simplicity — using fresh tomato sauce, bocconcini, basil leaves, a glug of olive oil and nothing else — on a Caprese ($19). It lets the freshness of the garlicky tomato and sweet yeastiness of the dough sing a lyrical duet.

In true Neapolitan style, the crust is pliable rather than crunchy, so that the pizza can be folded and eaten from paper, as sailors’ habits in the city port dictated. Mamma mia, those seadogs were onto a good thing.

Napoli in Bocca ,73 Dalhousie St., Haberfield, +61 (0)2 9798 4096

2. Whitebait fritters at Little Sicily

Little Sicily

The best seller at Little Sicily are wholesome with a hint of lemon.

Where chef Ciccio goes, those in the know follow. Now at his eighth kitchen, the inimitable Sicilian started one of the area’s original restaurants and still draws a crowd. It’s not hard to see why — unpretentious as the dining area is, the real magic goes on behind the scenes.

Consistent best sellers are the whitebait fritters ($17.80): golden, eggy and full of the saltiness of the tiny fish. They’re simple and packed with wholesomeness, with a zesty hit of lemon juice.

Five nights a week at Little Sicily, a whole suckling pig is roasted, the tender flesh falling off the bone and its salty crackling inducing sighs of happiness. An antipasto caldo is a different take on the cold classic starter: seafood, mushrooms, tomatoes and asparagus are flash-fried and served over rocket and mozzarella, the juices turning the lot into a warm, vinegary salad.

The Don of Haberfield will show you how real Italian food is done.

Little Sicily, 194 Marion St., Leichhardt, +61 (0)2 9560 2255

3. Penne Grauchi at Filicudi


The Penne Grauchi at Filicudi comes in a deep, creamy tomato sauce.

An outpost in quiet Five Dock — one of Little Italy’s furthermost tendrils — Filicudi has been faithfully serving honest-to-goodness meals for the last 35 years. Cozy and small, with Chianti bottles strung from the ceiling, it’s a warm and welcoming kind of a place, serving unfussy fare. That’s not to say its kitchen isn’t central to proceedings in the area.

Penne Grauchi ($18.50), a rich crab pasta, is a clear favorite with trusted locals and good value, too. Al dente penne has a deep tomato and cream sauce with blue swimmer crab: it’s heaped high and steaming and is enough for two to share. Get stuck in with the shell-breaking tools and you’ll end up messy and finger-licking, which adds to the rustic appeal.

Octopus in tomato sauce is also worth the trip, proving that old-style cooking endures for all the right reasons. Molto bene!

Filicudi, 11 Ramsay Road, Five Dock, +61 (0)2 9713 8733

4. Gelato at Bar Italia

Bar Italia

The gelato at Bar Italia is made in the café’s own Norton Street factory.

The strip lighting, wipe-down tables and dodgy art isn’t the draw at this 1959-established godfather of the area. You come here for the gelato.

During summer, queues can stretch out of the door for the rightly-famed and fresh ice-cream, which is made just a few doors away on Norton Street in Bar Italia’s own little factory.

The ranges of flavours are all pretty fantastic, from the cocoa-dusted Tiramisu to the zabaglioni option ($9.50 for four scoops), which goes well cappuccino, even on a cold day.

The zabaglioni flavor – sweet wine-sodden pockets of sponge in creamy, Marsala-heavy gelato – makes for a grown-up treat, but no-one at this Little Italy institution will judge you if mint choc chip is your personal favourite.

Bar Italia, 167-171 Norton St., Leichhardt, +61 (0)2 9560 9981

5. Canoli at Pasticceria Papa


The local Mafioso’s dessert is the canoli.

It’s not just because these tubes of more-ish-ness happen to be the Mafioso’s dessert of choice that make them worth a try. It helps that Pasticceria Papa’s canoli ($2) are utterly sublime.

Buttery pastry shells are deep-fried until bubbled and crisp, then filled with sweetened ricotta and dipped into chopped hazelnuts. A dusting of icing sugar and cinnamon finishes them off, adding an extra layer of messiness to the process of eating the crunchy, oozing wickedness.

They won’t win awards for healthiness but that’s a mere distraction from the cause — canoli, after dinner, with a coffee, is a rite of passage for any discerning Italianophile. In fact, canoli with a coffee at any time of the day seems to go at this busy Haberfield stalwart. If you still have room, try a slice of the ever-popular baked ricotta cheesecake, too. Then roll home.

Pasticceria Papa, 145 Ramsay St., Haberfield, +61 (0)2 9798 6894


Sydney’s best kangaroo, CNN // 1 June 2011

Such is the Australian cultural peculiarity that the kangaroo not only adorns the national emblem and TV shows, but also dinner plates across Sydney.

Lean, healthy and apparently beneficial as the meat may be, it’s probably not surprising that it is tainted with “Skippy Syndrome” — a public sympathy for not wanting to devour Joey’s mum.

But it’s versatile, good value and has the added kudos of being entirely free-range, unfarmed, methane-free and sustainably managed. It tastes pretty good, too.

On whichever side of the fence you hop, here are five takes on a plate of ‘roo in Sydney.

Char-grilled ‘roo at Blackbird Café


Char-grilled kangaroo and steamed veggies at Blackbird is a healthy choice.

OK, it’s not going to win awards for originality, but where else can you depend on finding a char-grilled tender kangaroo loin glazed in chef’s special orange marmalade sauce ($29.90) at any time of the week?

It helps that the ‘roo in question is perfectly cooked and paired with steamed veggies, making it tip-top in the healthy stakes.

On account of its low fat content, kangaroo’s not the easiest of meats to master, becoming easily overcooked or tough, so Blackbird’s spot-on loin is a rare find: the pink meat and bloody juices adding umami-laden depth to the sweet citrus sauce.

It’s a generous portion, so bag a window seat and let your meal go down whilst watching the world — and tourist boats — go by.

Blackbird Café, Balcony level, Cockle Bay Wharf, Darling Harbour, +61 (0)2 9283 7385, 8 a.m.–11 p.m. daily.

‘Roo pizza at the Australian Hotel


The fair dinkum kangaroo pizza at the Australian Hotel.

No quibbling over this one –- get to The Rocks and tuck into a kangaroo pizza at the heritage-listed Australian Hotel, equipped with marble wash-rooms and an old-world feel.

A bastion of all things fair dinkum, there are more than 100 Aussie beers to choose from (no imports) so it may come as no shock that the kangaroo pizza ($25.90) is the most popular (and certainly least Italian) pizza on the menu.

Strips of meat are marinated in native mountain pepper and served with roasted capsicum, cranberries and lots of gooey cheese. Not the healthiest take on Skippy, but there aren’t many better ways to fill up whilst sampling the beers and wines amongst colonial charm.

The Australian Hotel, 100 Cumberland St., The Rocks, +61 (0)2 9247 2229, Sunday-Thursday 10:30 a.m.-midnight, Friday-Saturday 10:30 a.m.-1 a.m.

Raw or cooked ‘roo at Kingsley’s Steakhouse


Carpaccio kangaroo for lovers of raw meat.

On a cold winter night, Kingsley’s cosy warmth hits the spot — old stone walls, low ceilings, exposed beams, wooden floorboards and immaculate service.

There’s an excellent take on the ‘roo fillet here — a worthy alternative to steak — served with onion and juniper jam and a mayo-free Italian coleslaw ($31.50).

Kingsley’s also serves the more unusual carpaccio with celeriac and horseradish remoulade ($17.50), which elevates raw Australian fare to a thing of elegance and sophistication. The wafer-thin, uncooked, translucent meat sits delicately alongside the rich, mayo-heavy remoulade.

Up the cosiness ante with a good red wine and again, ‘roo proves its value as a meat for dedicated carnivores –- best raw or cooked as little as possible.

Kingsley’s Steakhouse, 29A King St., City, +61 (0)2 9295 5080, Monday-Friday noon-3 p.m., 6 p.m.-10 p.m., Saturday 6 p.m.-10 p.m.

French ‘roo at Restaurant Paradox


The steak tartare at Paradox is the French take on kangaroo.

Anachronistic, honest and good value, you can’t go wrong with a trip to Paradox in Crow’s Nest — especially if you’re after a taste of Cordon Bleu cookery. It’s not modern, glamorous or trendy, but what owner and chef Michel Delcour lacks in snootiness, he makes up for in flawless French food — and a firmly European take on ‘roo.

A kangaroo steak tartare is faultless – deliciously peppery, bright meat and plenty of punch from capers and shallot turn the boomer into an entrée of which Escoffier himself would be proud.

Kangaroo fillet with green peppercorn sauce is a pleasure, too. The sauce — usually paired with steak –- is rich and fiery and does well to cut through the subtle gaminess of cooked ‘roo. Bon appetit, mate.

Restaurant Paradox, 98 Falcon St., Crow’s Nest, +61 (0)2 9956 8898, Monday–Saturday 7 p.m.–late.

BYO, three courses $49.

Fillet of ‘roo with a view at the Clovelly Hotel


A view of the fillet at the Clovelly Hotel — that comes with a view.

The pub with a decent view is a wonderful thing — and The Clovelly Hotel’s (or “Cloe”) view opens onto the ocean and rocky headlands of the eastern suburbs shoreline.

Thankfully, its food can stand up to the setting and their ‘roo dish ($26) is no exception. Great value posh pub grub it is — proven by the sliver of truffle topping my 200-gram kangaroo fillet.

Things are kept simple so that flavours aren’t hidden — choose a sauce from the list (the chef recommends parmesan aioli and gravy on the side and who are we to disagree?), and pair your posh kangaroo with a big bowl of hot chips and a cold beer. We’ll drink to that.

The Clovelly Hotel, 381 Clovelly Road, Clovelly, +61 (0)2 9665 1214, Monday-Friday 11 a.m.-midnight, Saturday 10 a.m.-midnight, Sunday 11 a.m.-10 p.m.

Or, read online at CNNGo.com


Gill v Bourdain at the Sydney Writers’ Festival, Evening Standard // 23 May 2011

My Australia blog for the London Evening Standard:

Now, I’m not one for fisticuffs but when I see something advertised as “Food Fighters”, I want to see a fight. Of sorts.

So you will understand my disappointment when, last week, this lacklustre Sydney Writers’ Festival chaired session puttered to a weak little close, the previously buoyed punters around me affecting a collective shrug instead of the double thumbs-up we had expected. We were left both hungry and bored and without a glimpse of blood, guts, sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll.

It was, you see, AA Gill versus Anthony Bourdain. And the topic was food. And the venue was the wonderful old Sydney Town Hall. A recipe for success, you’d have thought.

But when you have two huge egos, deliciously verbose descriptions, third-degree ADD, mouths like building site dunnies, competitive Alpha male DNA and more than a thousand pairs of eyes on you, even the most slam-dunk, air-tight, hermetically sealed recipes for success can go, well, a little floppy. Overegged and undercooked.

Sorry, event MC Tony Bilson, Australian chef and culinary legend in these parts, you may be a “Godfather of Australian gastronomy” but you were poorly cast. You were a lamb to the offal-obsessed, one-tracked slaughter. The event ought to have been compared by a comedienne, a feisty woman who could mock, flirt and belittle with a raised eyebrow. Gill 1, Bourdain 1, Bilson nil. I hope you have recovered.

Now that I have got that out of my system, I can report that the SWF, was, by most accounts, a gleaming success. The sun shone in true Sydney style, flaming autumnal colours mellowed by a lovely soft light. In spite of the Food Fighters flop, “AA Gill is here” was a highlight for me, the theatre of mostly grey heads twittering (in the old sense of the word) to his filthy tales of dildos, anal sex and one-night-stands. It was all suitably hammed up for the antipodean audience, Gill’s cut-glass accent a get-out-of-jail card for any offence that he may have caused. Anyone who can tell a theatre full of grannies (whom he had already insulted several times) that “if you want to use a cucumber for a dildo, peel it first” has my vote. Psychopath or not, I’d wager the man knows how to make a lady of any age blush.

There’re too many plum one-liners to list here, but there were moments of serious, anthropological-ish reflection amongst the self-serving smut. The main differences between England and Australia (and Australia’s only redeeming feature) according to Adrian Gill? Australia is always looking forwards whilst England nostalgically mourns a lost, supposedly better past.

As for his shameless Aussie bagging, though, I had to laugh. “You and I come from very different places.” Long pause. “Obviously.”


My Caffe Sicilia review, Agenda Sydney // 11 April 2011

Surry Hills and The Godfather aren’t the most synonymous bedmates, but in the short time that Caffé Sicilia has been open, this Crown Street spot certainly seems to have attracted quite a – well – faithful mob. Hunched over pastries or coffees, Italian conversations in full flow, old and young alike are flocking to this new chameleon bar/restaurant/café at all hours of the day.

Come Sunday breakfast, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a table unless you have inside links – maybe a consigliere, but more likely the ristoratore – as locals put shared plates under the watchful gaze of an army of handsome Sicilian waiters. Channeling old-world Sicily – from yards of Italian marble along the counter bar to the checkered floor and low overhead lighting – this is a place to watch and be watched, admire passing talent, drink espressos and indulge in some gossiping.

Like any good Sicilian family table, the food is all about rustic, humble ingredients elevated to toothsome Sydney-worthiness. There’s plenty of eggplant, ricotta, calamari and tomatoes, washed down by a range of both Italian and closer-to-home wines.

Start a long lunch with antipasti – say fresh buffalo ricotta on a bed of caponata melanzane, or baked pumpkin with mortadella and mostarda – before moving on to a pasta course or secondi. A veal involtini is stuffed with breadcrumbs and garlic and is ideal to share; a salad of rocket, goats’ cheese and orange is a welcome foil to the olive oil-edged richness.

By the time you’ve finished the last crumb of sweet cassata, you’ll feel like part of la famiglia.

Where: 628 Crown St, Surry Hills
Phone: (02) 9699 8787
Hours: 7am-midnight, Mon-Sun
Details: caffesicilia.com.au

Or read my review over at Agenda.