Italian food in Australia has come a long way since powdered parmo in a can. Today, regional Italian cuisine is what it’s all about: Giovanni Pilu’s Sardinian restaurant, Pilu at Freshwater; Naples-style pizza at Lucio Pizzeria and Pizza Mario; specialist Italian butchers such as Pino’s Dolce Vita and Quattro Stelle. Importers such as Lario International bring in pasta from a fourth-generation Tuscan pasta producer, as well as chocolate so dark and acerbic you’d think you were eating medicine. Bitters. Grappa. Wine. Yes, we live in a country where multiculturalism is celebrated – especially if you can eat or drink it.
So here’s Ormeggio, the jewel of the Spit. Brescian-born-and-raised Alessandro Pavoni, previously at the Hyatt’s HarbourKitchenBar, is now doing a regional menu from his part of Italy. His business partner Fraser Guthrie is running the floor with a dedicated team and a very drinkable, very Italian wine list.
You can tell straight away Pavoni’s in his element – his menu is focused, strong and gutsy. There’s baked buffalo ricotta, for instance, moulded into a low-lying cylinder topped with cannellini beans and mint. There’s tuna, slow cooked and served with perfect fingers of green bean and potato. There’s also a mackerel fillet with burrata and balsamic vinegar that looks pretty exciting.
The location doesn’t hurt either. You’ll find Ormeggio behind a boat shop, right on the water where vessels of all shapes and sizes bob and sway and schools of bream dart about. There’s a large outdoor area, which is ideal if you’re in a bigger group. Speaking of which, the spiedo alla Bresciana – a traditional Brescian spit roast of chicken, pork, rabbit and quail slow-cooked for five hours with sage and butter – is what to order if you’ve got a group of ten. It’s $52 a person and you’ll need to give the restaurant 24 hours notice. We’ll be going back with our mates for that one.
Ever eaten pici? They’re a hand-rolled pasta that look a bit like a chubby, misshapen version of spaghetti. Here, Pavoni’s version are wholemeal and served with a ragu of porcini mushroom, rabbit and fresh-shelled peas. Or try the agnolotti stuffed with ricotta and the incredible bagoss cheese which is aged for three years (it’s a bit like parmiggiano, only richer and more pungent). These little parcels of deliciousness are tossed through with tomato, basil and olives.
Desserts alone make it worth the trip. The yoghurt pannacotta is the big stand out – the light, tangy yoghurt base sports a hat of cherry jelly, decorated with thin shards of honeycomb, tiny sprigs of mint leaves and a halved fresh cherry. Or there's the sesame gelato sandwiched by thin chocolate wafers (also disc shaped) with a salad of strawberry jelly, fresh strawberry bits and basil leaves.
Ormeggio delivers, from service to wine to food, in a convivial setting. Plus, it’s not outrageously exxy. If this doesn’t sound like the perfect long lunch to you, we’ll eat our hats.