[invite] Bianca: Perhaps one of the North Shore’s best-kept secrets, The Italian has been romancing the locals for many years. Our visit early on a Saturday night was full of frenetic buzzing activity, accented by fantastic food and wine… and okay company, Alex is sort of alright.
We were both particularly surprised by just how busy they were. I think every resident in Willoughby tried to cram themselves into this rather small restaurant. A steady stream of patrons flowed in and out during our 2-hour dining experience. Don’t be fooled by its suburban location, it’s actually very sleek inside. With plush caramel leather furnishings and a moody bar area elevating this to potential ‘date night’ locale (if it wasn’t for all the screaming children).
Sitting within the Firefly portfolio, the menu here, as you may have guessed, is geared towards the classic Italian staples – Hot and cold antipastos, pasta and pizza. We were happy to take a backseat, as the staff selected items to showcase.
We started with a new introduction (by way of ingredient). The Kamut grain & activated charcoal Garlic Pizza $10. Unlike, anything we’ve really come across before, almost an earthy nuttiness. Offset by the caramelised garlic and smattering of cheese. Touted as lower GI & easier to digest. Of which we couldn’t actually verify due to the onslaught of carbs you’ll see below. But an interesting flavour that I would happily eat again.
I instantly fell in love with the Zucchini Fries $13. You can try to fool yourself into thinking these are healthy but they’re battered and fried and ridiculously delicious. Punchy and full of herbs, these are a great little starter.
The Piggs Peake Shiraz 2016 was a real winner paired with our Italian feast. I have it squirrelled away in my notes to purchase for my own collection. Pasta and vino go hand in hand and we’re always a sucker for a good gnocchi. The Gnocchi Fritti -w/braised lamb $27 was a hearty bold dish, the lamb tender, and the sauce well cooked and developed. The Gnocchi was soft but not as pillowy as our Nonna makes, there was still a bit of a squeaky rubbery bite.
I believe there are two types of Italians. The ones that like Tortellini and the ones that don’t. I happen to fall into the latter category, ravioli is where it’s at. And the Buffalo Ricotta & Saffron Ravioli -w/ pumpkin, mascarpone sage & amaretto $25 would be my pick of the two plates of pasta. The sauce slightly sweet, the pasta al-dente all tied together at the end with a sprinkling of crispy amaretto.
We were already at a level by this point but keen to give us a broad indication of the pizza quality. We were brought 3 different types of pizza. Yes, you read that right…
Probably not our first pick but surprisingly quite delicious, the Ivano – w/garlic prawns, roast capsicum, jalapeno, basil & mozzarella $25. Firstly, across all pizza’s the dough was fantastic. The highest compliment you can pay is whether you’d be happy to eat the cooked dough/pizza plain, without any flavourings and my answer would be a resounding yes. Light and not too cumbersome. A great balance of flavour, the garlic just adding a hint of spiciness and the squid and prawns were very tender.
Next up was the Funghi Formaggi – mushroom & four cheeses $23. The tomato sauce was full flavoured yet not too overpowering. A delectable combination of earthy mushies and rich indulgent cheese, I didn’t quite get any blue cheese coming through, however.
And lastly, what become my favourite. The Porco Bianco -w/ Prosciutto, potato, rosemary, garlic, truffle oil, parmesan & mozzarella $26. A thousand times yes!!! The prosciutto was particularly velvety, potato on pizza can be quite hit and miss but this was done so perfectly. I’d honestly go back for this pizza alone.
For something to cut through all the heavy carbs, we loved the Cabbage salad $14 and the Beetroot (which I can no longer see on the online website).
Desserts are never really a choice, are they? They’re mandatory! For something a little lighter and more refreshing, the Lemon & Hazelnut Zabaglione $8 is a strong recommendation from us.
But who can look past a Tiramisu $10 not quite ‘peak tiramisu’ level (i.e Ness’s or our Zia’s) but still, the flavour was there but we found bits of the savoiardi biscuits not completely soaked through and dry.
Alex and I were truly impressed by the food at The Italian, for such an unassuming local restaurant they are turning out fantastic top quality Italian food. So much so, we returned a week later for our older brothers birthday.
We had some of our favourites from our first visit but made more of a dent in their pasta menu. Getting a broad sense of the rest of the menu.
Malfadine Inverno – Ribbon shaped pasta w/bacon, mushroom & pecorino $23 sounded GREAT on paper. But they left off one glaring omission. CREAM!!! This was essentially a Boscaiola with the usual suspects and while tasty. My stomach cannot handle cream at the best of times and had it been labelled correctly on the menu I would not have ordered it.
The Rigatoni Norma -w/eggplant, ricotta, tomato & basil $24 was a little on the acidic side.
Alex went with the Pappardelle Ragu -w/veal & Pork $26 which was one of the more successful pasta dishes of the night. The pasta was al-dente, retaining some bite and the meat mixture, tender and rich.
Dad used to own a pizzeria with our Nonno back in the day so he’s always comparing and contrasting… He went with the Marco – chicken, pesto, bacon, mushroom & parmesan $24. Right up my alley, all the flavours working well. And the base as good as our first visit.
Photos by Alex