Vanessa: As many of you may know, we at team FFS hail from a southern Italian heritage but where from exactly you may not know. Our grandparents were born on a small island in the bay of Naples, called Ischia, which is a short boat ride from the well-known island of Capri. Having heard rumors of a new Italian eatery opening carrying the island’s name, we just had to make a beeline to check it out.
In true Italian style we arrived in tow with around 20 other family members to celebrate mothers day, my sister’s birthday and generally to surprise our grandparents with a meal reflecting the flavours from their island home.
Isola D’Ischia is situated at the lower end of Darling St in Balmain. The restaurant’s interior is bright, modern and features a small central bar with an image of one of Ischia’s most notable attractions, Il Castello Aragonese.
As we settled in the friendly wait staff, who were equally as excited to learn of our Ischiatani heritage and chat to my grandfather about the mother country, greeted us.
We were presented with a generous spread of antipasti to start off our meal that evening. Out of the four dishes we tried, two stood out for me. Firstly the Prosciutto e bufala ($26), a large creamy portion of buffalo mozzarella set atop slices of prosciutto is always going to be a winner in my book.
We also tried the Frittura di calamari ($24), which essentially is salt & pepper calamari with fried zucchini. I found this quite underwhelming and I think I saw one piece of zucchini in the dish, so not really a selling point. I also felt the dish was over priced for the portion size, in my opinion.
I won’t go into every individual dish that all 20 of us ordered that night, but will share with you a little about what I had and those directly around me.
When I saw they offered ‘Gnocchi alla Sorrentina ($28) on the menu, I could not go past it. I ate one of the best in my life in Ischia a few years back so I was hoping to recreate that experience and I have to say it did come pretty close. The gnocchi was cooked just how like it – soft enough so it still holds its form and texture without being mushy. The creamy mozzarella mixed in beautifully with the rich sauce making for one delicious pasta dish.
The other crowd-pleasing dish was chosen by fellow FFS member, Bianca, who went for the Risotto Maria ($32), which was a risotto with four cheese and truffle. The smell of the truffle filled the air as the plate was set down. Whilst this dish had so much promise and was so strong in its flavour, it was unfortunately let down by the fact that the rice was undercooked. A few more minutes would have done the trick but alas Bianca still made her way through the dish focusing on the flavour combination of cheese and truffle and not the chalkiness of undercooked rice.
Another notable dish that hails from the island is rabbit cooked in a terracotta pot. My hubby (Mr M) likes to be adventurous so steered away from the pasta option and decided to give the “Coniglio alla Ischiatana” ($32) a go.
In addition to the main meals we had ordered, the staff also showed us very generous hospitality throughout the night by bringing us a number of dishes with compliments of the kitchen. This generosity led to us doubling up on our dessert quantities that night as we sampled some of their dishes as well as the birthday cake we had brought for my sister.
We were also able to try their Pastiera Napoletana ($15) a traditional cake that originates from Naples and is made with ricotta and boiled wheat. I have watched my nonna make many a pastiera over the years (sampled many as well) and I have to say this was on par. I think everyone was very impressed with it!
In another show of hospitality, the staff brought out a round of home-made limoncello. A strong, lemon liquor which is intended to aid the digestion process (although by that point I would have needed more than one shot to aid the process!). Limoncello is synonymous with southern Italy where lemons grow in abundance, so this was lovely way to round of our little slice of Ischia in Sydney.
We were very pleased that we dined at the restaurant and that our grandparents experienced traditional cooking from their island whilst reminiscing with the wait staff.
Whilst the prices are on the expensive side in comparison to the portion sizes, the flavors are definitely there and give diners a good indication of the type of dishes to expect if they were to travel to Ischia or its surrounds.