Sunday, 30 March 2014

Al Tavola: to the table we go

You know your pasta is going to be fresh when you are seated next to the person making it. At one end of the 10-metre long marble communal table is a group of friends enjoying a long Saturday lunch under the pretty glow of the low hanging copper lights.  At the other end, a chef has set up shop and is industriously rolling out fresh pasta, which he hangs in strips outside the open kitchen.

The showcase restaurant of the new foodie complex on Hall Street’s Boheme – on the site of the former Hakoah Club – it sets a new standard for Italian food in Bondi. I’d been meaning to visit for ages; it wasn’t until I was sitting next to an diner in Pyrmont who was rapturously describing a recent meal at A Tavola Bondi, saying it was the best bowl of pasta she’d ever had that I decided – it’s time.

The inspiration for A Tavola (meaning “to the table”) derives from head chef and owner Eugenio Maiale’s childhood. As a child he would play in the backyard of his Adelaide home waiting to hear the call of “A Tavola” to indicate dinner was ready.

His mother made her own pasta and he honed the technique during childhood trips back to Italy where he would watch his relatives make an assortment of pastas, including pappardelle and gnocchi, rolling the pasta on big wooden tables either by hand or with broom handles.

Eugenio’s concept of simple and elegant food started with his first Sydney restaurant in Darlinghurst continues in Bondi. The cuisine is predominantly “Abruzzese”, a region next to Rome, with a heavy emphasis on dried and fresh pasta cooked to order and seafood.
A Tavola’s printed menu is short but sweet, featuring olives, three entrees, three pastas and three salads to supplement the daily blackboard of specials based on what’s available fresh that day.  

We snack on focaccia with rosemary dipped in chilli olive oil and baked olives, skipping the entrees. We decide to share two bowls of pasta: the tagliatelle with mussels, clams, fish and cherry tomatoes in a light tomato sauce from the general menu and the ravioli from the daily specials. The ravioli is filled with mascarpone, ricotta, mint and peas and covered in a butternut sauce with small pieces of asparagus. It melts in the mouth and is one of the best ravioli dishes I’ve had in Sydney – and definitely the best in Bondi.

For dessert we inadvertently order the signature dish, the Cremini al Cioccolato. It came in an ordinary looking cup, almost like we’d ordered a coffee. But this was no mere flat white. Breaking through the chocolate-sprinkled meringue to the bottom of the cup you get spoonful’s of bliss: biscuit, layers of chocolate and hazelnut, salted caramel ice cream, and sugar sweet light meringue.

But don’t just believe me. This has to be the first time I’ve been out in Bondi with the Bondi Curmudgeon and he’s described a meal as “fantastic”. Like a grumpy old man, he complained about the chairs being uncomfortable but the meal melted his curmudgeonly heart so much he volunteered to go for a swim at the beach. In a couple of weeks.

At this rate we’ll be living back in Bondi in no time.