If you’ve been to Italy, you may have accidentally stumbled across a restaurant with the menu chalked up on a board, one that the chef changes daily or weekly depending on what’s available and fresh at the markets.
Such is La Vucciria, the latest restaurant to take up residence in Sydney’s eastern suburb of Paddington. Located along Flinders Street just prior to the start of Anzac Parade, the Sicilian influenced restaurant takes its name from the food markets in Palermo and is a joint venture between Sicilian born Chef Fabio Alacqua and former winemaker and sommelier Brad Dickson, originally from Western Australia.
La Vucciria, Paddington
Behind the red lacquered door of number 160, the modern décor is rich in dark brown tones with timber floors. Black and white canvas images of the Palermo markets hang above a comfortable banquette set against the wall. Timber light fittings radiate to all corners of the open space and cast oblique streams of light over on the long marble bar. Tea lights on ceramic tiles flickering on tables add a touch of intimacy to the 48 seat restaurant and bar.
La Vucciria (Palermo) Market Photos
La Vucciria opened its doors in August 2011 and on a weeknight where a debonair ex-NSW premier is seen dining there, the restaurant is running at half capacity with diners well into their courses. The ambience is relaxed, the music is modern and upbeat without infringing on conversations.
Tonight’s menu consists of 6 entrées, 4 mains, 2 salads and 3 desserts chalked on the wall where market produce is displayed, with Sicilian ceramics on either side.
Bar and Birra – ‘na Biretta, Italian beer
The marble bar is headed by Stefano Mascarello, a native of Arona, a town on Italy’s Lake Maggiore. Stefano has worked at Giorgio Armani’s restaurant and bar Nobu and the private members club Armani Privé in Milan. He brings an Italian flavour to the bar with his specialties that include the Spritz, Negroni, Bellini, and other Aperol and Martini based cocktails. The bar also serves ‘na Biretta, an Italian beer from a brewery in Fiumicino near Rome.
Lights and red door
The drinks menu hides inside a vintage Sicily tourism booklet with pages displaying an Olivetti typewriter, black and white photos of towns such as Catania, Taormina, Messina and tourist information. There’s a good selection of Italian and Australian wines, some from boutique wineries, available by the bottle or the glass.
We toast a glass of Abruzo Masciarelli Trebbiano and Alto Adige Abbazia di Novacella Kerner while we decide on our choice of menu. The chef is tempting us with a selection of entrées and we are more than happy to leave the recommendation up to him.
Potato Crocchette Prosciutto
We start with Potato Crocchette Prosciutto, puffs balls of potato croquettes, crunchy and light in texture that melt in the mouth.
Chicken and Bacon Skewer
The Chicken Bacon Skewer are tender pieces of BBQ chicken wrapped in bacon. I like the flavour of this dish, particularly the marriage of lemon juice and olive oil with the smokiness of the bacon. A good choice of a starter that goes down well with the white wine.
Crispy Calamari Zucchini
The Crispy Calamari Zucchini is a generous sized dish with tender pieces of squid and zucchini in a crispy batter served on brown paper. Well seasoned and not too oily, this dish packs a lot of flavour and takes me back to the time we spent on the rooftops of the Kasbah in Mazara del Vallo drinking white wine and eating local seafood. This is our favourite entrée of the night.
Eggplant Involtini are eggplant roulades with a delicious cheese and tomato sauce with fresh basil – a flavoursome dish that remains light and moreish, leaving a good lingering taste in the mouth.
Spaghetti Prawns Nduja
Moving on to the main courses, the Spaghetti Prawns Nduja is an explosion of heat that complements the fresh flavour of the prawns. Nduja (pronounced n-dooya) is a spicy spreadable sausage made with pork and chilli, giving the humble spaghetti a good bite and lots of flavour. This is another of our favourite dishes on the night, helped along with a good vino bianco.
Spiedone Siciliano has tender pieces of skewered beef, zucchini, red green and yellow peppers, and a tasty Italian pork and fennel sausage that Chef Fabio makes on the premises. Served on a tomato, olives and Spanish onion salad, it is freshness and flavour of the produce that make this dish very enjoyable.
When it comes to dessert, three choice are the menu tonight: coffee tiramisu, strawberry tiramisu (made with strawberries and raspberries, amaretti biscuits and Maraschino cherry liqueur) which many patrons were ordering, and a Sicilian classic, the cassata.
We share a Cassata which comes served in a glass to show the pretty layers of Pan di Spagna (sponge cake), ricotta, chocolate, candied fruit, pistachio with a lemon glaze on top. This is a sweet and decadent dessert that takes me back to my travels to Sicily – a perfect choice for two to share on a date night.
I have heard whispers of a Sgroppino, an icy lemon sorbet frothed up with eggwhite with vodka added, a cross between a palate cleanser and a digestive but they were out of it on the night – something to leave for la prossima volta, another time.
Stromboli, the island of love – Bust of Apollo, the sun god
After service is over, I have the opportunity to chat with Chef Fabio Alacqua over a glass of Marsala and biscotti della casa. Originally from Milazzo in the north-east of Sicily, a small town that is a gateway to the Aeolian Islands, Fabio tells me his style of food is influenced by that region, where businesses are open for 4-6 months of the year. Prior to moving to Sydney, he was a chef in Sicily and has worked in Spain, the Canary Islands and had a 7 year stint in Milan where he met his Australian-Italian fashion journalist wife. They were married on the volcanic island of Stromboli then moved to Sydney to realise his dream of opening a restaurant with a Sicilian influence.
His food philosophy reflects the use of regional and fresh produce that changes with seasonality and availability. He tells me that he likes working with Australian produce and enjoys putting together dishes that reflect his native Sicily.
(Top left) Behind the scenes at a Dolce & Gabbana fashion show in Milan – Scenes from La Vucciria Markets in Palermo by Sicilian photographer Angelo Trapani
L to R: Brad Dickson (Part Owner), Fabio Alacqua (Chef and Part Owner), Stefano Mascarello (Bartender)
La Vucciria is the kind of restaurant that takes your taste buds on a trip to Sicily. Behind the modern décor, the chic bar and designer light fittings, it remains casual, welcoming and unpretentious with a strong focus on flavour, simplicity and freshness. Between 5 and 7 pm, you can partake in the Italian ritual of an aperitivo at the bar with drinks and accompanying small plates of food. Stay for dinner, and you’ll be transported to that Italian restaurant that you’ll always remember from your travels.
160 Flinders Street
Open Tuesday to Sunday 5pm to late
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