Friday, June 30, 2006

North Bondi Italian Food

There’s no dispute that Italian food has made a deep and lasting mark on Australian culinary traditions. Cappuccino is statistically Australia’s national drink and pasta is one of the most common meals eaten at our home tables. You can get blasé about Italian food in most capital cities in this country. There’s everything from cheap and cheerful to full-on silver service with prices to match. However NBIF injects a rarely seen magic into the Sydney Italian food scene that made me weep nostalgically for my many trips to Italy.

I’m a hardened diner – not easily impressed – but NBIF took my breath away on every level. The standout is, of course, the view before you even get to your table. On the ground floor of the North Bondi RSL (the site where Luke Mangan’s former Moorish camped out for a while), a road width away from the sands of Bondi, with sweeping views of the beach and the southern headland, where sister restaurant Icebergs Dining Room and Bar, winks back. Whether you’ve lived here all your life, or are a world-weary traveller who’s dined atop multiple coastlines, this is a seriously impressive vista to munch by.

Next is the room – a casual and friendly wood, paper and denim concept, with cutlery and condiments nestled in recessed nooks in the table. Bottled battalions of Campari, Averna and Montenegro buttress the bar, opposing the decorative red, white and green posts of the facing wall. We are in Italy.

Then the menu. Printed in red on your paper tablemat, it conjures quintessential Italian meal choices in various formats and sizes, adaptable for solitary jealous guarding, or for picking and sharing. It’s the rustic food you’d find in many hill towns or cities in trattoria and osteria. Have a look at the very funky website, shared with Icebergs, and see if you aren’t drooling by the end of the first column. There’s something to tempt every whim and appetite size if you’re up for homey Italian food. In addition to the everyday offerings, there’s also a roast of the day at dinner, which changes through the week from chicken, to duck, lamb, pork, quail and beef. The wine list is in green (get it? red, white and green?) and has a mercifully brief, but representative, selction of Oz and Italian favourites.

We three are veteran Italophiles. In devouring the printed choices we oooo and aah the sighs of countless long lunches staged throughout the length of the boot, and found it an exacting task to decide a small selection. We do, with an eye out for the Dolci, which beckon irresistibly from the bottom right hand corner. I notice that the choices for vegetarians are handsome, so readers of VeggieFriendly would do well to check it out. There are at least 17 choices to mix and match on the menu (plus the desserts). Add to that another eight choices if you eat fish and seafood. The rest is for carnivores.
Then there’s the service. Now, keep in mind this restaurant is in one of THE most tourist infested reaches of Sydney, they’d get business coming out their ears for the view alone and the good food, but these people smile. And they’re pleasant. And they’re knowledgeable and attentive without being in your face. It’s like they’re actually having a good time. This is not a coincidence. Maurice Terzini, who has a legendary history of faultless restaurant floor management, co-owns this establishment. I can’t help but think he has handpicked all the staff. I’ve sacrificed my view of Bondi to look inwards. The chefs in the kitchen are laughing – they’re having a good time too. I'm a firm believer that the temperament of the cook transfers to the food you eat.

And my instincts are borne out. This is terrific food. I’m not saying it’s worked over to the n-th degree, and presented as an architecturally designed skyscraper on the plate, but it is what it says it is – and the strong, simple flavours are really what quotidian Italian food is all about. We start with the fried calamari with mint and zucchini (first picture, above), a generous main course size and great for a shared entrée for three. We accompany this with the rocket and fennel salad (second picture, above). It’s obvious that the calamari is from a large example of the species, but nevertheless it is meltingly tender with a crisp flour-dusted coating, offset by the crispy fried mint leaves and tiny batons of zucchini. The fennel in the salad is blanched and the rocket peppery, dressed with oil and balsamic.

The plate-sized veal dishes come out next. Milk fed veal cutlets, to airy thinness beat, as both a crusty cotoletta (crumbed in homemade breadcrumbs and parmesan, above left) and chargrilled with basil and balsamic (left) . Both tender as … well ... milk fed veal. The pappardelle with slow braised wild boar ragu (picture above the veal cololetta) completes our choices and is every bit the complex-flavoured, warming winter dish it sounds. Its gamey richness so comforting on a cold day.

In addition to picking at our salad, we've ordered the enticing-sounding crispy Italian style potatoes with garlic and rosemary (below left). This, my friends, is roast potato heaven. Cubes of crunchy spudettes, perfectly salted, infused with rosemary and papery garlic. We can't stop gobbling just one more.

The servings are weighty, so we feel compelled to merely share a dessert. An ill-timed visit to the loo means I miss the picture of its untouched glory and all you have is a still life of half devoured mocha zabaglione with espresso (below). My companions are unapologetic. We conclude our North Bondi Italian food-fuelled reminiscence of vecchia Italia with an ode to the elastic-waisted trouser, surely a diner’s best friend in such circumstances, and we would have set out for passagiatta (the very sensible habit of a gentle post prandial walk to see and be seen) had the parking inspector not lurked so malevolently in the distance.

Quite frankly, we had the best time and you will too. Cool clear days lend themselves to lunch with a sea view, and I can’t think of a nicer venue with fantastic Italian food to spend your hard earned, while gazing at a killer view with delightful service. Do it.

120 Ramsgate Ave, North Bondi
Phone: (02) 9300 4400


Anonymous helen said...

Oh yum. They all look so good. Love the sound of the zucchini and calamari, the idea of wild boar ragu, and adore the colour of those golden brown potatoes. YUM!

4:50 PM  
Anonymous Dave said...

Super place huh?...I've eaten there half a dozen times now and you can never tire of that view....reminds me to phone my mates in Bondi and do lunch next Sunday.

12:33 PM  
Blogger Reb said...

Hi Helen - yep those spuds were to die for!

And Dave, that view is out of this world, even though this time I didn't get to see much of it!

7:17 AM  
Blogger Ange said...

Looks & Sounds delicious, will keep in in mind if I'm ever in Sydney!

11:23 AM  
Anonymous deborah said...

yum, everything looks so good. i'll give this place a go when im the area next.

11:58 AM  

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