It’s a freezing cold night in Sydney when we arrive at Puntino Trattoria on the Woolloomooloo side of Crown St. As we set foot onto the doorstep a handsome man flings open the door dramatically and shouts ‘welcome signora!’.
It’s one of the best and warmest introductions to a restaurant I have ever had, and, although I didn’t know it at the time, it bodes very well for what lies ahead. Tonight is a pretty special occasion dinner as hubby and I are dining with our good friends Elaine and Dylan and we won’t be seeing them again until the end of the year. Not only that, but Dylan does not like mushrooms, which is quite an issue as we are specifically ordering mushroom dishes to celebrate Mushroom Mania.
It’s a gamble, but I’m hoping in my heart of hearts that Dylan changes his mind about mushrooms, if only so he doesn’t go hungry (and just drink wine for dinner!).
As soon as we are seated, the owner Tony (Antonio Sabia) comes to greet us. Tony is a charming, funny and passionate foodie – all of which is obvious as he talks to us about the dishes he recommends featuring the fresh produce that has come in that morning. After we’ve decided on what to order (with Tony’s expert guidance) he ducks off to the kitchen briefly before excitedly returning with a massive platter of raw mushrooms. See picture above.
We are in awe. There are so many beautiful mushroom specimens and such a wonderful variety; king brown, portabella, shimeji, enoki, oyster, swiss brown and more. Tony returns to the kitchen to get them baked on a platter inside the woodfired pizza oven. As we sip our wine and chat, we can hardly wait for them to arrive.
Medley of mushrooms platter baked in woodfired oven – with an assortment of Tony’s handpicked herbs (part 1).
However, we don’t have to wait long. Half a wine glass later, a large wooden platter is placed onto our table and the four of us take a deep breath and sit and stare. It seems only appropriate to take a minute to appreciate the aroma, texture and presentation of the dish.
Dylan looks nervous, but extremely interested. He says the reason he doesn’t usually like mushrooms is due to ‘the texture’, so I’m interested to hear what he thinks of these mushrooms which are cooked super simply with ‘just a bit of salt and pepper and thrown into the woodfired oven’, according to Tony.
Medley of mushrooms platter baked in woodfired oven – with an assortment of Tony’s handpicked herbs (part 2).
We all dig into different mushrooms but I immediately attack the hugest one first. It is moist, tender and thick as hell – slicing it is like cutting right through a big slab of juicy steak. Yep, I can definitely see why they call mushies ‘meat for vegetarians’, not to mention all the awesome health benefits of vitamins D and B12, antioxidants and low glycemic index.
But back to Dylan. Guess what? He likes them! More specifically, he likes the more exotic types that have slightly charred edges and a firmer, chewier texture. Still not a fan of the button or portabella, but I still count that as a win!
We gobble up every single mushroom without a thought for how many more dishes are coming… it was not very smart.
Garlic prawns starter $16.90.
Other than the mushrooms, we ordered two other starters. These garlic prawns came bathed in a rich, spicy tomato sauce and a generous portion of about eight prawns. We mopped up most of the sauce with bread, but really should have been saving room. It was just so moreish!
Burrata caprese salad starter $16.90.
Be still my beating heart! This was on my list of ‘must haves’ as soon as I saw it on the menu. I am absolutely obsessed with burrata. For those who are not in the know, it is a fresh milky cheese that is tied in a knot and has the creamiest, liquid cream centre when cut open. Heaven.
Nothing comes close to the perfection I had in Firenze in 2009 which was burrata topped with truffle, however this was very nice. My only slight complaint was that it was a tiny bit too cold. I would have liked the cheese to sit at room temp for a few more minutes to soften a bit more – but it was a very cold night, so that probably had something to do with it.
Gnocchetti with gorgonzola, sausage and walnuts $18.90.
Why on earth haven’t I put walnuts in pasta before? It is such an inspired addition! This particular combination of gnochetti (mini gnocchi twists), italian sausage, rich gorgonzola and crunchy walnuts is fantastic. I think you’ll be seeing me try to replicate it here in a few weeks.
Margarita pizza $16.90.
I don’t care what anyone says, the less toppings on pizza the better. And luckily Elaine and Dylan agree with me.
Puntino’s pizza is excellent. Thin base with black, blistered bits on the bottom from the supreme heat of the woodfired oven and good quality cheese and tomato sauce. This one also had little slivers of salty anchovy and black olives.
The girls were saving room for two more dishes (plus dessert), so the boys finished this off.
Fresh tagliatelle with mixed mushrooms in butter sauce.
Whenever I make pasta dishes with mushrooms I generally always use a cream base. Probably because I love cream. However, if you are serving freshly made pasta (which I never am at home, too lazy), a butter-based sauce works beautifully. And, since butter and mushrooms are a match made in heaven, when they are combined with freshly made pasta a perfect holy trinity is born.
Little slivers of leek and garlic added to the savouriness (a word?) and I just love the way the small mushrooms were left whole so that when you bite down on them the juices squirt into your mouth. Hmm, maybe that’s too much information.
3 way pork porchetta: sliced, involtini and sausage $29.90.
We absolutely had to order this special after Tony cheekily announced it to us: “you must have the three way. 3 way pork, that is”.
Porchetta is a special Italian-style pork roast where the body of the pig is deboned and rolled, then roasted (traditionally over wood). This dish has the pork served in three ways: sliced and mixed with slippery mushrooms, sliced thinly and rolled up involtini-style and as a thick, rustic sausage.
The delicious sides of roasted potato and grilled capsicum barely get touched due to our saving of room for dessert (for which there was already no room!).
After a short break we were offered dessert, but tried to decline. In true Italian hospitality, we were (happily) berated until we agreed to let Tony choose one for us. We really thought we were too full, but after just one spoonful of the light-as-air bavarese we found ourselves going back for more. Again. And again.
It looks quite rich and menacing in the picture above, but underneath that sinful layer of smooth, soft chocolate ganache is mousse-like fluffy baked cream. On top is a tangy blackberry granita where the ice crystals have been shaved so small they instantly melt on your tongue.
It goes without saying that we washed in down with shots of Italian liquor in different flavours – lemon, lime, apricot – and one more that I can’t remember. Sorry, I was a bit tipsy! :)
Puntino Trattoria is seriously the best Italian I have had in Sydney for a loooong time and I can’t wait to go back again. Have you got a favourite Italian local?
41 Crown St
Woolloomooloo NSW 2011
(02) 9331 8566
Everything you need to know about Mushroom Mania
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Fig & Cherry dined with compliments of the Australian Mushroom Growers Association (AMGA).
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