Monday, December 16, 2013

Popolo: Bringing southern Italian to the people

The emergence of regional cuisine in recent years - from Italian to Chinese to Thai - signals a maturation of the Sydney dining scene.

Being less common and familiar to us Sydney-siders, it was with excitement and intrigue that I visited Popolo in Rushcutters Bay, which opened to rave reviews earlier this year with its southern Italian offerings.

Bellini at Popolo, McLachlan Avenue, Rushcutters Bay
Popolo's two co-owners, formerly of Fratelli Paradiso, have taken on a space beneath a block of apartments in the pricey inner city suburb, introducing produce and wines from emerging regions in southern Italy to the people.

Bright and airy during a Sunday lunch, it was entirely appropriate to start with a bellini, made with peach puree and topped with prosecco and an orange zest garnish that tried to poke the drinker's eyes out.

Bread and olive oil
A bowl of bread was brought to the table, foccacia and a hole-riddled white bread, with salt and an adorably small cast iron frypan filled with olive oil.

Principessa pizza
Continuing on the carbohydrate path, we chose a pizza to share given Naples in the south of Italy is regarded as the home of the modern pizza.

Despite the base and crust of the pizza being a little thicker than I was expecting, the pizza still went a little soggy with the load of fresh and tasty tomato sauce and so was best eaten with cutlery or folded over.

The stretchy, melted buffalo mozzarella cheese was an absolute highlight, of the day even, with the pretty but impractical whole basil leaf garnish.

Carpaccio di gamberi - prawn carpaccio with housemade sour cream, capers, freeze dried mandarin
The entrée special of the day was an irresistible carpaccio of prawns. Served raw and flattened, the prawns had a wonderful creaminess, enhanced with dabs of Popolo's house-made sour cream and and salty capers.

Oil and a hint of vinegar lightly dressed the prawn carpaccio with segments of freeze-dried mandarin adding the finishing citrusy touch to an unusual but spectacular daily special.

Fregola with blue swimmer crab and tomato
From the pasta menu, offered in the one mains size, the fregola was the popular pick for its promise of crustacean goodness.

Featuring picked blue swimmer crab flesh and a crab leg, the hearty and firm fregola pasta basked in a fresh tomato sauce with delectable hints of the sea and soft, squishy cherry tomatoes.

Squid ink tagliatelle with heirloom tomatoes, poached tuna belly and bottarga
I didn't taste the inky black tagliatelle which was a striking dish of wide, squid ink noodles in sauce of yellow-orange heirloom tomatoes with poached tuna belly hidden beneath and sprinkled atop with bottarga cured and dried mullet roe.

Pesce - market fish of Spanish mackerel with cauliflower and white bean puree
I chose the day's market fish of Spanish mackerel, which I was looking forward to as my only prior tasting of the fish has been in its raw nigiri sushi form. The Spanish mackerel was served simply pan-fried on a creamy white bean puree, circled by cauliflower florets.

The thick fillets of Spanish mackerel were very well cooked with crisp, golden skin and its meaty flesh retaining moisture. While a beautiful fillet of fish, the mackerel dish could have used some bigger flavours and even a cheek of lemon wouldn't have gone to waste.

Rocket and grana padano salad
A medium sized bowl of oil-dressed rocket and grana padano cheese shavings completed the meal as our shared side dish.

N & C - coffee-scented white chocolate, hazelnut mousse, hazelnut crumble
Popolo's exotic list of Italian cheeses tempted me more than any cheese list I've come across in Sydney, but being a little too keen on the pizza earlier, I just couldn't do it.

I could barely manage one mouthful of the deceptively petite dessert of chocolate cream, hazelnut mousse and nutty praline. It was both one of the smallest and richest desserts I've tasted, felling the rest of the table with its intense sweetness and creaminess.

We could have sat and lingered with the chilled Sunday lunch crowd, drinking the afternoon away people watching, although there isn't too much of a view other than the well-heeled locals. While it's not a trip to Naples or the Amalfi Coast, Popolo's bringing a part of southern Italy to the people of Sydney.

Popolo on Urbanspoon


chocolatesuze said...

i am so obsessed with fregola right now it's insane

Sherrie Huang said...

Ah, pizza and pasta - gotta love them both! Italian food just wins me over every time :D

Helen (Grab Your Fork) said...

The prawn carpaccio looks amazing!

Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella said...

We really enjoyed our meal here although we got a bit lost trying to find it. It was worth it though!

Grace said...

So excited to see an authentic pizza from Naples in sydney! I love when the dough is thick and soggy like that

Vivian - vxdollface said...

Haha I showed mum your pick of the squid ink pasta and she's going gaga over it, looks like I'll be making a visit soon!

Tina said...

Hi Suze - How good is it? You'll love Israeli couscous then too :)

Hi Sherrie - You're right, it's hard to go wrong with pizza and pasta :P

Hi Helen - Definitely a unique dish. I don't generally eat raw prawns that much, but this was amazing.

Hi Lorraine - Haha, I'm not in Rushcutters Bay very much either...

Hi Grace - I think I've gotten used to the thin, crisp style pizzas that are so common around Sydney now.

Hi Vivian - Hope you enjoy! I think they squid ink tagliatelle is always on the menu in some way or other.

Annie said...

been wanting to try the fregola at this restaurant for months since they were at taste of sydney but looks pretty hard to get to. still really keen to go there one day


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