Current Issue #488

Restaurant Review:

Sia Duff

L’italy, the charismatic younger sibling of Ruby Red Flamingo, Tony Tomatoes and Coccobello, offers big-hearted Italian food and a fix of la dolce vita.

The O’Connell Street restaurant, which opened last April, nails all aspects of the good food, good wine and good times brief and is a happy celebration of all things Italian.

This site was previously home to the Spaghetti Crab and Spaghetti Meatballs popups but L’italy has a more permanent feel and it seems is here to stay.

I hadn’t eaten here before, so didn’t know what to expect, but knew I liked it when the doors opened to a warm greeting and Sinatra’s New York New York played at a decent volume. Five seconds in the door and it felt like fun – there’s a lot to be said for first impressions.

I was, as always, a little bit early and my friend, typically, a little bit late, but this is the kind of place where you don’t feel self-conscious sitting alone.

The interior is nicely done: stylish but unpretentious with dark green walls and whitewashed bricks, round timber tables and a tan-coloured leather banquette along one wall. There’s a gorgeous tile-fronted and marbletopped bar where you can sit and enjoy some salumi and a cocktail while a leafy courtyard at the back is perfect for warmer nights.

The gloriously nostalgic-but-cool playlist, loud enough to create a vibrant mood but not too overbearing, really hit the right tone. I was loving Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga’s duet of Lady Is A Tramp when fresh  bread drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with salt arrived at the table – gratis – a nice touch.

I also went a bit ga-ga, ogling the impressive collection of (mainly) Italian wine bottles lining the walls. The drinks list is a punchy, well-curated selection of Italian and Italo-inspired Aussie vino, and there’s a fun bunch of cocktails, too. Adelaide has a long-held love affair with Italian food. Our city is not starved of the good stuff, but L’italy brings its own worthy interpretation of this much-loved cuisine. Dishes show off traditional techniques, great local ingredients, comforting flavours and simple but effective plating – prepare to Instagram your food!

The menu works well as a shared experience so, once my companion arrived, we selected a trio of small plates including salame finocchiona, (Tuscan-style fennel salami, cured for three months) from a list of housemade smallgoods. The salami, with its subtle sweet anise flavour, was served with crunchy pickled vegetables, good olives and toasted bread.

Sia Duff

Next up, carpaccio di tonno (tuna carpaccio) with pink, silky, slices of fresh tuna topped with spheres of crisp daikon and peppery red radish, tiny blobs of fresh orange, lemon dressing and splash of EVOO. It was hard to fault.

A must-try vegetable dish is cavolfiori fritti: gently fried cauliflower florets lightly coated in kefir. A chilli vinaigrette adds a nice spiky-sour backdrop.

The portion size of the small plates is generous – one more shared plate and we would have been more than satisfied – but the mains on offer were too tempting.

I spied the housemade potato gnocchi with four cheese (quattro formaggi) salsa at the next table and had a case of “ordering regret”, which worsened when I saw a delicious-looking Bistecca tagliata – grass fed hanger steak with a pepper crust and parsnip puree.

The regret faded with the arrival of my linguine mare mare, full of prawns, crab meat, scallops and blistered cherry tomatoes in red sauce spiked with chilli. A simple dish? Maybe, except rarely is pasta cooked properly al dente like this, and not many tomato-based sauces deliver this complexity and depth of flavour which would make any nonna proud.

Sia Duff

My dining partner often orders risotto, believing it’s something of a litmus test for a restaurant kitchen. It may just be rice and liquid but there’s skill and attention needed to make a memorable risotto. L’italy’s risotto al funghi with porcini, oyster and pine mushrooms was superb, a wet-style risotto with a creamy, porridge-like texture but thankfully neither mushy nor starchy. It may not be the most visually striking dish but we loved the fleshy mushroom pieces folded through the fragrant risotto and the rich and earthy flavour with a slight caramel sweetness. Molto buono!

We enjoyed the relaxed service style from a bunch of personable front-of house staff who joked along when we guiltily ordered dessert while watching a pilates class happening in the building across the road. All those fit and flexible movements could have made us feel guilty about panna cotta, but when it arrived, we stopped worrying. Nat King Cole’s Unforgettable was next on the playlist and seemed a fitting tribute to this beautiful ivory-coloured dessert with the proper wobble and super-silky texture. Made with buttermilk, it had a nice tang and was oozing with dark berries in a jammy, luscious syrup with finely crumbled cookies on top.

While for most of us COVID-19 has ruled out the prospect of visiting Italy any time soon, joints like this are a reminder we can still enjoy many of the region’s flavours – and some of its spirit – a little closer to home.

47 O’Connell St, North Adelaide

Sia Duff

Kylie Fleming

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