Your Ultimate Guide to Australia’s Best Italian Restaurants

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May 18, 2016

With an array of superb Italian restaurants in Sydney, nonnas could be forgiven for feeling redundant. Grab a seat at these trattorie and pass the parmesan, please.

NSW

Reviews by Anthony Huckstep

A Tavola

Amid the frenetic neon flashes of Sydney’s busy Victoria Street lies a neighbourhood Italian that’s arguably the most underrated in the city. A slender room houses a long marble table where the pasta-making magic happens every day. Out the back it’s more “casual trattoria” but don’t let the cool vibes fool you – if it’s not the best pasta in town, it’s the most satisfying. A trip to chef Eugenio Maiale’s table is not complete without ordering the pappardelle con ragù, which changes daily from rabbit to duck and even beef shin. It’s like a hug from your nonna. For something lighter, ribbons of tagliatelle entwine calamari slivers and cherry tomatoes. Cremino – chocolate mousse, meringue and hazelnut – is the cherry on top of a cracking night.

348 Victoria Street, Darlinghurst; (02) 9331 7871

SEE ALSO: Best Waterfront Restaurants in Sydney

Pendolino

While most Sydney restaurants bend to the beauty of the harbour and alfresco lifestyle, Pendolino hides in the shadows to transport you to the heart of Italian sophistication. On the second level of the historic Strand Arcade, a dimly lit room of dark browns and crisp, white linen tablecloths houses rows of those in on the secret of this fine-diner. With no glimpse of the outside world, you could be in Melbourne, even Venice. But with perfect pasta made daily before each service, it doesn’t matter because it’s spot-on. Ravioli with spinach and three cheeses are lathered in burnt butter. Fresh burrata gets the backing of beetroot jelly. Cauliflower cooked in Sicilian red wine adds dimension to rich yet delicate duck leg. It’s a lesson in Italian substance and style.

Level 2, The Strand Arcade, 412-414 George Street, Sydney; (02) 9231 6117

Icebergs Dining Room and Bar

A visit to Sydney wouldn’t be complete without a meal at the ’Bergs with its seasonal spin on contemporary Italian by chef Monty Koludrovic. It’s as Aussie as spag bol, relying on masterful Italian technique and superb Australian produce. The floor-to-ceiling windows offer views of our most famous beach but inside, staff in white jackets and black bow ties help moderate a Mediterranean mood. Translucent eastern king prawns get a garlic, chilli and lemon kiss, while bone marrow and braised Coffin Bay octopus are combined with curls of cavatelli pasta. It’s all as mesmerising as it is memorable.

1 Notts Avenue, Bondi Beach; (02) 9365 9000

VICTORIA

Reviews by Larissa Dubecki

Osteria la Passione

Molto Italiano. Osteria la Passione is about as close as you can get to the Emilia-Romagna region without paying the airfare. Chef Carmine Costantini is the real deal: a farmer-chef who bakes his own bread (smoked buckwheat and rye, delivered in a brown paper bag), cures his own meats (on display in the glass cabinet like religious icons) and makes everything from scratch, including fat pouches of tortellini with ricotta and borage, napped in butter sauce. Choose from an à la carte menu or a six- or nine-course dégustation, with selections that change according to the day and the season. Diners can expect the unexpected, such as cavatelli with prawns and zucchini vellute, finished with sun-dried mullet roe. Italy never felt so in reach. Molto buono.

486 Bridge Road, Richmond; (03) 9428 2558

SEE ALSO: 7 Restaurants You Must Try in Melbourne

Il Bacaro

It’s amore. The devoted diners making a beeline for this seductive bistro know there’s substance to the warm lights twinkling between wooden venetians, the classic wainscoted good looks of the Latin power-eating hotspot with a wine list full to bursting with Old World loveliness. You’d do well to brace yourself for some bill shock, though prices become irrelevant when the parade of Italian classics begins arriving. Everyone seems to order the calamari, lightly floured and fried, on a thicket of rocket but from there it’s anyone’s game, whether it’s the rich Gorgonzola funk accompanying fresh figs, the white anchovy and pink peppercorn zing to the Wagyu carpaccio or the dolce-time frenzy of fairy floss and pop rocks with steamed cheesecake and blueberry and violet-essence sorbet. As for the waiters... at Il Bàcaro, being wooed is to be expected.

168-170 Little Collins Street, Melbourne; (03) 9654 6778


Image credit: Christine Francis

Rosetta

Open Tuesday-Sunday for lunch and seven days for dinner Neil Perry doesn’t do things by half-measures. Rosetta, which joined his steakhouse Rockpool Bar & Grill and the regional Chinese Spice Temple on the Crown riverfront three years ago, is cinemascope Italian: a fully realised vision of mid-century opulence complete with russet-coloured velvet banquettes, acres of marble and black-and-white portraits of Italian starlets and playboys. Italian in the classic sense (simple, unfussy and utterly produce-driven), pasta is the restaurant’s long suit. Sophia Loren may well owe everything she has to tagliolini tangled into a garlicky mass and anointed with spanner crab or agnolotti stuffed with a delicately herby farce of veal, rabbit and pork. Roasted meats are another highlight: twice-cooked porchetta with preserved peaches, salsa verde and sanguinaccio (blood sausage). No funny business here; just sheer Italian delight.

Riverside, Crown complex, 8 Whiteman Street, Southbank; (03) 8648 1999

QLD

Reviews by Morag Kobez

Bucci

In a precinct where Brisbane’s beautiful people come to see and be seen, Bucci gets the style-to-substance ratio just right. For starters, the food is prettier on the plate than most Italian fare. The sleek, contemporary interior is open to the footpath – all the better to watch the passing parade – but when the food arrives, all eyes are down. Clever re-creations of classics make for lighter, brighter pasta dishes like chilli, parsley and lemon linguine tossed with sweet Sunshine Coast spanner crab. Same goes for secondi; Bucci’s saltimbocca is a smoked-pancetta-wrapped, pink duck breast with cheesy semolina gnocchi and a lemon, caper and herb butter. For dessert, bite-sized orbs of buttermilk panna cotta flanked with zesty lemon butter and fresh and freeze-dried mandarin keep up appearances – proof that beauty can be more than skin deep.

15 James Street, Fortitude Valley; (07) 3252 7848


Image credit: Daniel Maddock

1889 Enoteca

Set in one of the most charming historic buildings in Brisbane, 1889 Enoteca is like a classic film – you know the storyline well but it’s so lovely, you want to keep returning to it. The opening credits are parmesan and rosemary crisps on which to nibble. Then perhaps the vitello tonnato or excellent fried zucchini flowers filled with mozzarella and anchovies. The signature gnocchi is a captivating scene you’ll be keen to replay over and over; dainty pan-fried dumplings with pork-and-fennel sausage in a criminally rich parmesan cream with black-truffle tapenade. As in the traditional enoteche of Italy, wine is just as important as the food. Waiters are well versed in a wine list spanning an astonishing array of naturally made wines from small Italian producers that you won’t find elsewhere in town.

10-12 Logan Road, Woolloongabba; (07) 3392 4315

ACT

Reviews by Lucy Barbour 

Italian and Sons

This slick and bustling trattoria introduced Canberrans to smart dining without the frills and locals keep lining up for more. There’s theatre everywhere. Waiters with thick accents dart gracefully between small tables, carrying plates of bubbling wood-fired pizzas topped with portobello mushrooms and house-smoked ricotta. Cured meats dangle from above the bar (lined with cognac, grappa and liqueurs) and make for a more-ish charcuterie plate served with grissini and broad bean pesto. Weekday specials like wood-fired spatchcock and salt-crusted, dry-aged sirloin are rustic and delicious but al dente ribbons of maltagliati laced with garlic, chilli and fresh scampi tails are hard to beat.

7 Lonsdale Street, Braddon; (02) 6162 4888

Mezzalira Ristorante

Despite the immaculate white tablecloths, leather seats and high-end prices, the vibe at Mezzalira is friendly and relaxed. The restaurant belongs to the Trimboli brothers and is the bigger, slightly more sophisticated cousin of Italian and Sons. Suits come here to schmooze over plates of delicate tortellini filled with creamy buffalo-milk ricotta, pumpkin and leek, while couples love it for a romantic night out. Italian varietals are plentiful and Tuscan cabernet merlot is a perfect match for Berkshire suckling pig roasted in a wood oven, deboned and served porchetta style with sweet mostarda (candied fruit), green apple and shaved fennel. For a sweet finish, settle back with a Neapolitan limoncello nightcap.

55 London Circuit, Civic; (02) 6230 0025

TAS

Reviews by Jo Cook 

Templo

This cosy modern Italian and Mediterranean neighbourhood restaurant seats just 20. Chef Matt Breen and manager Chris Chapple run with a small weekly-changing menu of eight dishes and a wine list with at least one choice each of fizz, white, rosé, orange and red (or BYO for $15). Order from the à la carte menu or go with the chef’s selection and enjoy Breen’s no-fuss-on-the-plate cooking. Start with gnocco fritto (a fried puff of dough wrapped in prosciutto) and a glass of Italian sparkling then move on to farfalle or gnocchetti with a tasty tomato sugo and house-made bottarga. There’s veal cotoletta with zucchini pickles, pork scallopini with lemon, sage and potatoes and just one perfect dessert: silky panna cotta with white nectarine. They do two seatings, at 6pm and 8.30pm. Book ahead.

98 Patrick Street, Hobart; (03) 6234 7659

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Stefano Lubiana Wines And Osteria

Pinch yourself – you’re in Granton, about 20 kilometres north of Hobart, not in Italy. Tasmania’s only certified biodynamic vineyard and its on-site osteria feature sandstone walls, a stunning cellar door and a food garden inspired by farmhouse-style eateries in Northern Italy. Take a table under the grapevines on the terrace with views of the Derwent River estuary and start with the 2007 Grande Vintage Chardonnay Pinot Noir. With chef Claudio Guidetti’s menu you’ll be in buone mani (in good hands). There’s wild-caught kingfish served with pickled turnips, cucumber, potatoes and cetrioli grigliati (charcoal-grilled cucumbers with balsamic and walnuts). Fancy la dolce vita? Try the licorice meringue with blackberries and house-made biodynamic condensed-milk gelato. Along with wines from their own label, they serve imported biodynamic wines. 

60 Rowbottoms Road, Granton; (03) 6263 7457

Reviews by Nigel Hopkins

Andre’s Cucina & Polenta Bar

With its wall shelves stuffed with cookbooks and Italian pantry items, you’d think you had walked into Nonna’s kitchen. Owner-chef Andre Ursini has enormous passion for Northern Italian cooking – but it’s not all about polenta. You might start with meltingly tender Black Angus beef carpaccio, followed by addictive, chunky white polenta chips with tomato sugo then baked mulloway with mussels, prawns and roast fennel purée. If it’s a day when the kitchen does freshly made gnocchi, grab it. The polenta dishes are great, too. Go on an empty stomach and opt for the “feed me” fixed menu, which is exceptional value. Book ahead as Andre’s can be very busy.

94 Frome Street, Adelaide; (08) 8224 0004

Ruby Red Flamingo

There’s a special charm about a restaurant that doesn’t have pretensions. This one owes its fame to delicious, simple Italian home cooking by chef and co-owner Enzo Verdino. A mixed bag of retro seating, colourful walls and blackboard menus, this is a fun place with friendly service. It’s so well loved by locals that getting a table requires patience. The maccheroni eggplant with smoked scamorza and the gnudi (ricotta and spinach dumplings) are instant hits, while classic grilled chicken and chargrilled veal with roast potatoes and spinach come in half or full serves. At full throttle it’s loud, energetic and chaotic. 

142 Tynte Street, North Adelaide; (08) 8267 5769

NT

Reviews by Sam McCue

Cucina Sotto

This Italian joint has the checked tablecloths you’d expect but no roof. “Kitchen Under the Stars” pops up by the sea from May to mid-November in the dry season. Line up for more-ish wood-fired pizza, handmade pasta (pumpkin and amaretti ravioli with salted pepitas), risotto or fennel-rubbed porchetta. Salads might include Caprese, zucchini and mint or something else fresh and seasonal from horticulturist-turned-restaurateur Benjamin Matthews’ garden. Pull up a chair or bring your own picnic blanket and drinks. Save room for the vanilla panna cotta with strawberry and basil or passionfruit sauce, or the espresso panna cotta with dark chocolate and brandy sauce. 

Le Stelle Seabreeze car park, Chapman Road, Nightcliff; 0449 731 490

WA

Reviews by Max Veenhuyzen

Lalla Rookh

Blessed with a profound understanding of Northern Italian traditions as well as contemporary food movements, Joel Valvasori-Pereza isn’t just one of Perth’s best Italian chefs; he is one of the city’s best chefs, full stop. While his handmade pastas remain as dependable as ever (that pappardelle with pork, beef and red wine ragù!), wise eaters know the value-packed “il Capo” tasting menu ($58 per person) is where it’s at. From the deluxe whipped smoked eel and potato “dip” with squid ink crostoli to the elegant house-made ricotta teamed with seasonal accompaniments such as figs, this shared table is a mighty fine endorsement for both Lalla Rookh and cucina Italiana.

77 St Georges Terrace, Perth; (08) 9325 7077 

SEE ALSO: Perth's Newest Hotspots

Il Lido

While Il Lido’s name speaks to its beachside location, primo real estate is but one reason to dine at the pride of Cottesloe. For instance, the bright and airy restaurant could just as easily be called “Il Vino” – such is sommelier Dan Wegener’s prowess when it comes to the wines of the old country (he’s also just as excited by the work of local young guns). Or how about “Il Pesce” in honour of glorious seafood dishes such as grilled cuttlefish and colourful kingfish carpaccio? Finally, there’s “Il Caffè” to consider, a more-than-fitting title for an all-day espresso bar that’s relied on by so many for their RDI of caffeine. 

88 Marine Parade, Cottesloe; (08) 9286 1111

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