Bianca: Growing up, our Sunday night family dinners at the grandparents bordered on a production. Pasta, followed by schnitzel, roast chicken, eggplant parmigiana, salads… and then there was the desserts. There were times where we thought our worth was estimated by how much we left on the plate, the less the better! Italian food as a cuisine is generous, both in spirit and flavour. Not only does the food need to leave you wanting more but by the end of a meal, you need to leave feeling as if you’re one of the family. And that is exactly how we felt after our meal at Popolo.
@4foodssake were down one partner in crime, so it was an all-girl affair. Vanessa and myself were warmly greeted and shown to the bar by owner and operator Flavio. I am intrigued by bar dining ever since my fabulous experience at Chin Chin in Melbourne, it adds a whole new dimension to a meal and one that I now seek out where I can.
Once the staff and dining patrons around us found out we were from Ischia (an Island off the bay of Naples) we became the most popular people in the room… also a regular occurrence, just sayin. It’s such a small and most of the time, un-heard of island. That once you come across someone who has experienced its charm you bond instantly. So they started to parade some of Ischia’s finest wine.
With an emphasis on Southern Italian food, you can come in for an aperitif and some antipasto or have a full-blown meal lasting several hours.
We were interested in a more casual laid back affair which the bar seating provides. By it’s very nature, it turns the meal into a more communal experience, numerous times people leaned over to ask us what we were eating.
Flavio was keen to show us the best of Popolo so we put our trust in his hands and he selected a few dishes for us to try. As he wandered back into the kitchen I softly mumbled to Vanessa “I should have mentioned, light on the seafood”.
Really there was never any need to worry, we were in the very capable hands of head chef Naomi Lowry, we simply sat back and let the literal feast began.
Kicking off with an Aperol Spritz for Ness and the Popolo Bellini for myself, perfect accompaniments during the warmer months.
I’ve been eating olives since I could essentially chew. My nonno often brines his own and they would regularly make appearances at special occasions. It’s pretty remarkable for me to be so taken by Olives but I adored these. With a hint of orange, chilli and rosemary and odd cheese notes which we both picked up on. As well as nice mixture of olive types – I can never go past a Kalamata but Ness favours the green variety.
Thankfully the only seafood that made an appearance was the Bonito Carpaccio. A delightfully light and delicate dish with muted subtle fish flavours. The squid ink chips were a particular highlight and added some texture along with the shaved fennel, to what could be considered one note, texturally. If you were to encapsulate summer in a dish, this would be it. Refreshing and light, a seafood dish that even I would be happy to eat over and over.
And then the carbs began, with a serving of House-Baked Bread and Sicilian extra virgin olive oil. I could actually eat bread and butter/oil till the cows come home. The focaccia was my favourite with a crispy crust studded with pearls of sea salt and rosemary. P U R E – B L I S S!!
And then the proteins made an appearance! We couldn’t very well sit in front of a beautiful prosciutto on the bone and not be treated to a few slices. The De Palma Salumi prosciutto was one that divided the two of us, with Ness taken by the ‘young’ cold-cut. It wasn’t to my tastes at all, I found it far too grainy and tough, preferring the melt in your mouth velvety varieties. Really the only misstep the whole night. Still, what a treat, to have a fresh prosciutto sliced before your very own eyes.
We were then treated to some Salumi – Sardinian style Salami, nduja and pistachio mortadella. I couldn’t tear myself away from the spicy nduja with it being a little too fiery for Ness.
We were reaching a level now but the food continued to trickle out. There may have been a slight squeal of delight when the Burrata was placed in front of me. Served alongside seasonal tomatoes, basil, evoo and sea salt $24. Simplicity in its finest form.
Rounding out the heavier dishes was the Schiacciatina – A thin crust pizzetta w/tomato and oregano $13. A perfect pairing alongside the burrata and salumi. If the Pizzetta is any indication of the quality of the pizza then I’d say you’re in safe hands. This was truly the perfect example of the quality of the ingredients speaking for themselves.
And to end the savoury – Lamb Spiedino. These were a little under done for our liking producing a slightly chewy bite which was a shame as the flavour was really on the money. There was a strong char grilled flavouring coming through and the whole dish was lightened up with the addition of the salsa verde.
The Insalata di Verza – shaved savoy cabbage, walnuts, sultanas, breadcrumbs & sherry vinegar $12. Gave the illusion that a serious case of utter gluttony had not just occurred.
I’m easily peer pressured into bad food choices and if I’m being totally honest, it didn’t take much to sway me into ordering dessert. There was one that had my name all over it. The Cioccolato – Dark chocolate ganache, cherries, olive oil and sea salt $17. My notes really should just have stopped at AMAZING. Truly, one of the best desserts I have eaten in 2015. The ganache was pure bliss, it was served cold and the longer it sat and came close to room temperature it became creamier. The olive oil had some faint fruity/peppery notes and along with the salt, really elevated this into something special. Each bite was different from the last and paired with the Corrado Tonelli, Visner $10 per glass really accented both the dessert and the cherry liqueur.
I really can’t recommend Popolo enough, we were both thoroughly impressed with the food. It’s one I know would even impress my nonno (if he ever left the house). I’ll also make mention of the ‘dinner with a view’, sorry I have to. Single ladies, please, get down here immediately!!
*For Food’s Sake dined as guests of Popolo, all opinions however are our own and independent