If Madre is a bonafide temple to Neapolitan pizza then its pizzaiolo Ettore Bertonati is the high priest.
Ultimately, the proof is in the pizza. Madre’s pizza dough is, quite honestly, the tastiest and most tender I’ve experienced – but more on that later.
Madre’s home is the old Feliciano restaurant in Gilbert St and it’s virtually unrecognisable from its predecessor after an award-winning refit by RAD-studio. The dining space, with an on-trend pastel pink and ocean blue colour scheme, has long communal tables and smaller individual tables along one wall with a timber and leather banquette. The kitchen is at the back where the blue-tiled Stefano Ferrari domed pizza oven imported from Naples takes pride of place .
The service style, guided by restaurant manager Suzanne Pagnozzi, is breezy and relaxed but polished while a feelgood vibe is helped along by the warm sound of vinyl. No doof-doof music here but classic LPs with everything from Blondie and The Beatles to Elvis and Wings.
We sat at one of the side tables for two looking into the restaurant which is great as no one has to look at the wall! The menu, with sections divided by tombola (Italian bingo) numbers, offers plenty of sharestyle dishes from salumi plates to burrata, polpette meatballs or potato croquettes.
I was curious about the montanara which are small rounds of fried pizza dough which hail from the mountains around Naples. The soft puffy dough was flash fried, filled with a homestyle beef and onion ragu, finished in the wood oven and sprinkled with pecorino shavings. Moreish morsels indeeed. Madre has a tight, all-Italian wine list from which we selected a Babo Sangiovese made in Tuscany by Aussie winemaker Justin Bubb. Its cherryspice flavours and chewy tannins made it a cracker with every dish.
The pasta special was a perfect example of the Italian belief in simplicity and respect for good produce. Tentacles of pan-fried whole baby octopus were wrapped around ribbons of handmade tagliatelle flecked with fresh chilli, garlic, parsley and fresh tomato. I loved the clean flavours and sea freshness of the dish but added some chilli oil just to add a little more punch. There was confusion with the order so our pizza didn’t arrive (I often wish waitstaff would just write orders down) but it was worth a wait. The Assunta (named for the ascension of the Virgin Mary) was a textbook-perfect pizza with the classic blistered, leopard-spotted, soft and chewy cornicione (outer edge) and a tender and pliable base topped with thinly-sliced pancetta and portobello mushrooms, mozzarella, shaved provolone, earthy truffle salt and fragrant rosemary oil.
A perfect summer Panzanella salad impressed with ripe-tasting tomatoes, fried sourdough cubes, cucumber, parsley, basil pickled, red onion, a splash of olive oil and vinegar and spoonful of fresh, creamy ricotta.
While Madre’s dough is not heavy, we still needed a light dessert and a silky-smooth vanilla panna cotta, with the proper wobble, worked well. Made with natural yoghurt, it had a hint of tanginess which was a good foil for the rich sweetness of a syrupy orange toffee sauce.