The guys behind this haven of fine snacking are Flavio Carnevale and Fabio Dore, both ex-Fratelli Paradiso. They’re serving Italian regional food from Basilicata and Sardinia. And they’ve opened just around the way from Neild Avenue and Buon Ricordo. A brave move, and one that’s really paid off. The service here is personable, friendly and incredibly assured. Somehow they’ve captured the energy of Frat Paz, without the frenetic pace that can occasionally accompany a meal there.
Make sure to order the seaweed fritters from the bar menu. The Coola green, lightweight puffs are filled with shreds of seaweed and have a sweet, subtle weedy tang to them. From Carnevale’s native Basilicata, you might try pizze such as their principessa – a luxed-up Margherita with buffalo mozzarella, tomato and basil. The donzelletta is a monster of cow’s milk mozzarella, thin slices of golden potato, sausage and ricotta. Would we go back for those alone? Maybe not – they’re great, but not quite Lucio or Rosso Pomodoro -great. That said, as part of a larger meal, they are most definitely worth investigating.
The things we fall hard for here (and there’s quite a lot) are dishes like the rustic, gutsy malloreddus – that Sardinian pasta dish you might have before at Pilu at Freshwater. Here, gnoccheti sardi are joined by little bits of pork sausage, a fine dice of tomatoes and big shavings of pecorino cheese. Sundays mean family-style specials like slow-cooked lamb shoulder and, on one visit, zuppa gallurese – thin sheets of Sardinian crisp bread (carta di musica), lamb stock and cheese all cooked until it’s a bubbling savoury, cheesy, lamby bread pudding.
If you’re into Italian wines you’re in for a treat. Go that Murgo 2009 Etna Rosso we’re so obsessed with at the moment with a slice of pizza. Get into the briny 2010 Castello di Torre in Pietra – a mix of Fiano, Malvasia and Lazio, perfect with little nubbins of pork sausage served in a scalding hot cast-iron frying pan with chilli and broccoli rabe and a little shaving of scamorza. A great snacklet to start if it’s an early Sunday lunch after a late Saturday night. Feeling fancy? There are five different expressions of Marsala to try with your chocolate torte. They’ll also knock you up a mean ristretto.
Popolo is equally ace for large groups as it is for single diners. Take a seat at the bright red bar and order a Negroni and a few snacks, or book a big table and eat the whole menu. It’s probably the most accommodating restaurant you’ll come across in Sydney at the moment. We’d live at Popolo if we could.