There's packed and then there's packed in Leichhardt. Big families share huge bowls of pasta, and kids covered in red sauce and spaghetti worms run around doing their darnedest to destroy the restaurant. Book a table. There's no day of the week Gelbison isn't packed. But if you can't get in here you can always try their other restaurant in Bondi. You won't find olive oil with homemade balsamic as you might in plenty of Italian restaurants in Sydney. This is old school: baskets of bread are served with single serves of Western Star butter and the parmesan comes in a glass shaker.
Make sure you order the pizza, which comes out hard and fast out of the massive black heaving oven. The Margherita is a complete cheese-out covered in dried herbs, and a few scanty basil leaves on a tomato base. We badly want the special of buffalo, prosciutto and tomato but they sell out within minutes of chalking it up on the board. Pasta includes all the usual suspects - creamy carbonara (it may not be traditional but it's still a tasty mamma) and pesto penne but there's also the prawn linguine with chilli oil. Whole prawns are tossed through strands of linguine with a generous dousing of chilli oil and a little parsley. It might not be the best pasta in town but it's quick and cheap.
Antipasti sees a mix of pickles and cured meats but you'd be better off ordering the salt and pepper calamari and prawns instead. The prawns are so covered in batter they resemble little prawn nuggets but the calamari is fresh and served arms and all. There's plenty of traditional Italian food in this city but there is real fun to be had at Gelbison - and that's a rare thing.