Hospitality has a way of getting into your blood, even for those on the fringes of the restaurant industry. When a love of food is a shared family tradition, then “the die is cast.” Cipri Italian, run by brothers Carmelo (Chef), Joe and Anthony (Front of house), with the occasional cameo by their mother Maria, is the proud realisation of their culture, where the joy that food and wine brings them is valued and truly embraced as a way of life. Years later, their latest venture (formerly at Swordfish), is cosily tucked away in a quiet area away from the bustle of Oxford Street. With one wall touchingly charting their family journey, nothing has changed. Their love of food, and the desire to share that with others, continues on. Their warm faces in the pictures, a fond reminder of another time and place, look full of hope; perhaps confidently knowing their legacy would live on through another generation, who would write their own chapter, adding to a rich story of perseverance and opportunity.
The polenta chips ($8), with a flecking of rosemary, and served with a thick gorgonzola sauce, are a contender for the best in Sydney. Seasoned well with crunch, and moreish inside texture, it conjures thoughts of more. Then, a slightly lusher version of bruschetta ($4), with mascarpone, mushrooms (including porcini) and lashings of shaved truffled pecorino to tease the appetite that little bit further. A nicely presented special of smooth chicken liver pâté, set in a perfect elegantly glazed disk, served with toasted brioche, Sicilian capers, cornichons, and pears poached in red wine, is a classy interpretation of this dish.
Nearly as eye-catching, the Cipri brothers take on carpaccio ($23), a signature entrée which strikes the perfect texture ratio between the beef (not too thinly sliced), walnut pesto, quail eggs, testun di barolo cheese and olive oil. Saltimbocca ($22), with de-boned quail, pancetta, sage, vibrant radicchio, pear and balsamic has nice aromatics and balance, perhaps needing only a slight tweak on the seasoning to finish it off nicely. The very rustic Squid ink spaghetti ($23/$31), conveys the taste of the sea, without losing the nuance of the crab meat, with a fair lashing of cherry tomatoes and zucchini adding some contrast.
The plump trio of pumpkin and ricotta ‘house-made’ cappelletti ($21/$29) is always on the menu, and for very good reason. The sweetish silky filling sings with the amaretto, burnt butter sauce, crispy sage and prosciutto, and is finished off with truffled pecorino to amp up the wow factor. Clearly this is a dish I would return for alone. Perhaps under-rated in comparison, the far more rustic pappardelle, with slow braised duck ($23/$31) and porcini mushroom ragu, is the far weightier of the two, although unmistakable in both is the texture and quality of the pasta. The station, visible just off the main bar, is a hive of activity near the end of lunch service, and the simple premise of freshly made pasta for each service, clearly translates in the dishes.
By far the most worked dish on the menu, de-boned Macleay River rabbit ($35), stuffed with chicken, black truffle and wrapped in pancetta with a wholesome reduction to emphasise the flavour profile, delivers on its promise. The dish conveys clean definition of flavours, and is served with baby carrots, a gratin of potato, king brown mushrooms and goats cheese to add a slight kick. Even better, the twelve hour slow roasted (at 82 degrees) suckling pig ($35), sourced directly from Hawkesbury NSW, is finished off between 185-200 degrees. This gives the skin the desired crunch, whilst ensuring the texture remains entirely sublime. Red cabbage salad with mustard fruits, pistachio and fennel seed are a nice switch up from the usual accompaniments elsewhere, giving the dish both balance and a slightly renewed feel. The thickly crumbed 120 day grain fed Black Angus veal cutlet ($33), with mesclun, herbs, heirloom tomatoes and aioli riding side saddle, is definitely portioned in the diner’s favour, as is the majority of the menu.
The service has that spontaneous Italian warmth, yet is also particularly attentive, which works well in such a large and long open plan space. The predominately Italian/Australian wine list, with very reasonable mark ups, also has some back vintage for those who might want to splash out on a special occasion, with a large selection of aperitifs, spirits and fortifieds to supplement it. The baked ricotta cake ($15) is surprisingly light, served with a solid vanilla bean crème anglasise and candied fruit. In contrast, the warm chocolate fondant ($15) ticks all the oozy boxes when opened, with a prune and brandy gelato on the side.
A food journey will forever be a rich tapestry, the sum of both the past and present. However, it takes on greater poignancy when family history and culture is also interwoven into the back story. What remains constant though is the joyful moment when food is cooked with love, and shared with others. This has never been, or will ever be quantified through the recognition of industry awards; rather thriving on the simplicity of smiles on faces, and the unbridled laughter that fills a room. Cipri Italian, in that spirit, welcomes you more into their home than a restaurant, bringing to your table their style of food, not overworked, but full of the flavour and gratification that will see you returning for more as part of their ‘extended family’.
10 Elizabeth Street, Paddington
Thu-Fri (&Sun) 12 to 2pm, Mon-Sun from 6pm