An Italian restaurant on the waterfront on Walsh Bay, Ventuno is a good idea for a pre theatre meal or for a weekend lunch. Popular dishes include the Dopo Lavoro or after work platter, pizzas, tortiglioni ragu and tiramisu.
On my sister's last week in Sydney before heading back to San Francisco, she made one request for her last lunch in Sydney. It was for an Italian restaurant. As a lot of places were still closed for the Christmas period and/or not open for lunch I asked some of my nearest and dearest. Ventuno on Walsh Bay was offered up as a suggestion by Belinda. And even my patriotic Chinese food only father was coming along!
It is a beautiful but very hot day in Sydney and we are offered a choice of a table outside but in the direct sunlight or inside at a banquette. Knowing of my sister and mother's aversion to sun we adjourn inside. We ask our friendly and attentive waiter about recommendations and we go with what he recommends especially once we see the Dopo Lavoro entree platter delivered to an adjacent table. My father is preoccupied with the pigeons that occasionally wander past, perhaps hoping for a pizza crumb or two. Ventuno meaning 21 references the number on Hickson Road.
Dopo Lavoro $65
The dopo lavoro (meaning "after work" in Italian) and other platters are very popular and this is perfect for aperitivo hour with you and some friends or as a shared entree. There is a tumble of pale yellow tender calamari fritti, meatballs in a tomato sauce, garlic prawns in tomato sauce and arancini rice balls also with a tomato based sauce. Alongside this are slices of pizza to mop up the sauces. The calamari and the garlic prawns are a particular highlight but we were less taken with the meatballs that needed a bit more flavour to them and the pizza bread which was a tad chewy.
Bocconcini with eggplant pesto $16
Cheese is never a bad thing and when you crumb and deep fry it well, we just had to order this. This is a brilliant idea where the milky creaminess of the stretchy cheese is encased in a golden crumb coating gives a lovely balance. And that eggplant pesto? Perhaps you missed it in the lust for deep fried and crumbed bocconcini (I know I did). Well it's amazingly good with a creamy texture and the flavour of basil and I tried my own hand at making eggplant pesto!
Diavola pizza $24
With the exception of my father we are all suckers for a spicy pizza and the diavola certainly delivers with heat. With tomato, fior de latte cheese, hot salami, onions and the heavenly spicy spreadable salami called nduja (why can't nduja be Vegemite?) and we savour each bite.
Spaghetti Pescatora $28
We are divided. My parents love this spaghetti pescartora with the delicate thin spaghetti strands, tomato based sauce and plenty of tender, fresh seafood on top. "That's because it's like chilli crab with noodles," I say after a mouthful and they nod. Perhaps it is.
Tortiglioni Ragu $24
But for the rest of us the tortiglioni with slow cooked veal ragu delivers in spades. Full of flavour and with just enough delectable sauce to coat each piece of pasta, it is finished with cherry tomatoes and zucchini. If I were to be critical I'd say that the zucchini needs another minute in the pan as the larger pieces are a touch raw in the centre and distract from the rest of the dish.
Ananas arrosto con gelato alla vaniglia $14
Since the waiter hadn't steered us wrong so far we go with his dessert recommendations. The pineapple dessert is a simple roasted fresh pineapple with cinnamon brown sugar topping served with a vanilla ice cream. It's a light, fruit based dessert perfect after a rich meal.
On the other hand, who needs fruit when you have tiramisu? This too was a very light dessert with layers of Savoiardi biscuits dunked in espresso coffee and sandwiched between layers of feather light mascarpone cream.
With my family, there's no dawdling or whiling away the time watching the view. It's time to go once the bill is paid and tummies are full.
So tell me Dear Reader, do you linger after lunch or do you leave soon after? And would you go for the pineapple dessert or the tiramisu?
This meal was independently paid for.
21 Hickson Rd, walsh bay NSW 2000
Phone:(02) 9247 4444
Monday - Sunday: 12noon - late