Bianca: With gorgeous views overlooking Freshwater beach and Queenscliff bay, it’s easy to see why Pilu at Freshwater, a popular two hatted restaurant has become a staple in the fine dining world of the Northern beaches. Drawing hordes across the bridge, Giovanni Pilu has become a champion for modern Italian/Australian food with an emphasis on Sardinian cuisine, a subset of Italian food that celebrates cheese, seafood and ‘the fruits of the land’, whilst also having a slight Arabic influence.
During my Friday lunch time visit, I counted at least four tables that were celebrating birthdays – these more ‘up-market/fine dining’ restaurants are usually left for special occasions but I was celebrating my cars service in nearby Brookvale so here I found myself at Pilu on a gorgeously sunny day. The things I must endure…Madre was accompanying me, as she hardly needs an excuse to spend the day by the ocean eating fabulous food and drinking cocktails.
The dining room just screams sophisticated beach-side chic, if that is a thing. Whist it is a more upmarket restaurant (with the prices to match) we didn’t get any of the stuffiness that you sometimes come across in more fine dining establishments. Service on the day was fantastic, I’m unsure if he was the manager but the level of detail and care he paid to our meal truly made it a memorable experience.
Pilu offer a number of lunch dining options, ranging from a degustation, A La Carte or the opportunity to ‘Tour the Regions’ with the option of a 2 or 3 course at $45 and $55. During the month of August the region highlighted was Calabria – a stone’s throw away from my dad’s side of the family in Sicily.
We decided to combine the Calabrian 2 courser with a main from the A la carte and a side.
A round of drinks started our leisurely lunch, with Madre opting for an ‘Aperol Spritz’ $19 and a ‘Mt Bianco’ $19 for myself.
We were then presented with an Amuse Bouche consisting of a Parmesan crisp, parmesan cream and finished off with a dusting of paprika. We both adored this, it instantly brought me back to my primary school recesses eating Le Snaks – don’t be a hater!
This particular Italian loves her carbs and bread is probably my favourite carb on the spectrum, I’ve been known to eat bread & butter for dinner occasionally… We were each given a generous serving of a warm white roll, served alongside whipped bottarga butter. I’d prefer the option of plain butter as the fishy roe is not one of my favourite things. It didn’t exactly punch you in the face with an overwhelming ‘fish’ flavouring but it was there and it was noticeable.
We opted for the entrée’s from the regional lunch menu, with Madre choosing the ‘Spaghetti con ragu di seppie’ – Spaghetti with cuttlefish and tomato ragu. The pasta was cooked al dente and the fresh tomato sauce had a great depth of flavour and was cooked through well. She did commit a cardinal Italian sin by requesting parmesan (Fish and cheese is a major no-no). As I’m not the greatest lover of seafood, anything that aids the fishy taste and smell is a vast improvement in my books. The seafood was soft and tender but I’d be lying if I were to say there wasn’t a pungent ‘ocean -aroma’.
My entrée was the ‘Melanzane alla parmigiana’ – Eggplant parmigiana. Outside of burgers this would be one dish, I would happily eat every day for the rest of my life. Such a humble ingredient, such a special dish. I’ve eaten various forms of parmigiana growing up and I’m sorry Nonna/Nonno but this has been the best. The tomato sugo was thick and rich, the eggplant had a slight batter that was crispy and moreish, most pleasing of all was that it retained its crispness to the very last bite. Despite it being drenched rather liberally in olive oil and sauce. All accented by the cheese which was in abundance. Giovanni, this should be a permanent fixture on the menu. Please and thank you.
Mum and I can never go past duck when we eat out, as it’s something we both find rather intimidating to cook. So we shared the ‘Anatra, lenticchie, rapa, mirto e mele cotogne’ – Duck, braised lentils, turnips, mirto and sour quince $47. Mum was initially put off by the lentils but they quickly became the highlight on the plate, they tasted almost as if they had been cooked or drenched in a red wine jus. The duck was soft, juicy and cooked well, with a prominent pink centre. The duck had been dried, steamed and cooked hanging in the oven whilst being intermittently sprayed with a mixture of orange juice and mirto (a bitter Sardinian liquor). The quince added some acidity and sourness to cut through the richness of the duck. A must order.
Alongside the duck we couldn’t look past the ‘Patate arrosto, rosmarino e olio d’olivia’ – Roasted potatoes with rosemary and olive oil $12. Your typical standard spuds, nothing to complain about here.
And lastly, we finished with the desserts on the Calabrian ‘tour of the regions’. The ‘Panzarotte Calabresi’ – Ricotta filled fried pastry dusted with icing sugar was a delightfully playful dessert that appealed to all senses. These little turnover style pastries were served warm and were the perfect medley of sweet ricotta, honey and sultanas. We were initially concerned they would be dry but once you cut into them, the unctuous molten filling spews forth. Delicious.
We also shared the ‘Torta di fiche secchi, gelato al finocchietto selvatico’ – Dried Fig torta with wild fennel ice cream. This had its pros and cons – the cake was the star, littered abundantly with plump dried figs, a beautifully moist cake crumb that was ultimately let down by the ice-cream polluting the dish. The biscuit crumbs added some texture but going between the cake and the ice-cream was far too jarring. The flavour profile just did not work and it really did bring the dish down a few notches.
Mum can never go past a coffee and her poison of choice is a ‘Mocha’ $6.50. Certainly on the pricier side but it was a good-un, we were taken by the crumpled style cup. We ended on a sweet note with some adorable little Petit Fours – shortbread with chocolate ganache. A subtle interplay of sweet and savoury notes.
Pilu has the views, the ambience and most importantly the food. An almost flawless meal.