When dining out, one tends to make assumptions. I made one just the other day when I booked a table for Mr NQN and I to enjoy a nice dinner together as I had been away. I chose a table at 5:30pm and given the Bondi location, I figured that it was a place for hipsters and night owls so that we would have the whole place to ourselves, we could eat quickly and then go home. Which is what usually happens when we dine at what my friend Ute calls "Nanna time" or 5:30pm.
So I feel a bit silly when I look around the restaurant at around 6pm and almost every table is taken. I had forgotten completely that of course families like to dine early and Italian food is a firm favourite with children. On each side of one of the long communal tables, we are seated next to couples, large groups and small families. Children slurp up long pasta noodles and sip lemonade while adults drink wine and tuck into prawns.
A Tavola's Bondi menu reflects the location with more seafood options than the Darlinghurst location but there is always the familiar house made pasta. A Tavola means "to the table" which was a cry that chef Eugenio Maiale heard often as a child come dinner time. The Bondi space is open and airy and sits outside the new Adina hotel with Gelato Messina just a few door's down.
The blackboard displays the day's specials (consigli) while a small menu card tucked under the napkin shows more bar type options. Vases of wheat decorate the table while copper lamps hang overhead.
The bread arrives and it's a house made foccacia with a mildly flavoured chilli oil. The waiter goes through the menu for us describing the dishes in more detail. As there are three entrees, four pastas and two meats, the choice is easy and before we know it, our first courses have arrived.
"Of course the stracciatella is a must try" were the words from our waiter. I'm expecting a soup, much like the egg drop soup. Instead this is a creamy, dreamy layer made up of buffalo burrato all stringy, soft and milky with flavour hits from red onion, verdant broad beans and zucchini flower blossoms. It's as delicious as it is comely.
We had originally ordered the prawns because quite honestly I couldn't remember what lingua meant but when it dawns on me, I quickly change the order. The goat tongue is first brined before cooking and it comes as three soft slices on a plate with thinly sliced heirloom carrots, tender sweet golden and purple baby beetroot, mint and roasted hazelnuts.
The taglioni needs no parmesan as the bottarga (salted fish roe) takes care of all the saltiness that this dish needs. It's squid ink taglioni which causes the little girl seated near us to stare open mouthed as we take one of the pasta claws to it. It's a salty, intensely flavoured dish with incredibly tender braised octopus, basil leaves and cherry tomatoes.
The pappardelle is all silky thin ribbons of thick pasta held together with a generous amount of baby soft wagyu beef shin ragu with red wine and horseradish. It is rich and full bodied although less intense than the taglioni and appears to be a popular dish that evening with many patrons around us ordering it.
*Cremino al Cioccolato $14 *
It's probably quite true when they say that you should wait after eating your main to see if you can fit in dessert because we were both ready to have one dessert each but after our meal had settled a bit, we realised that we could only share one. No matter because the chocolate dessert was a resounding hit with both of us.
It resembles a cup of coffee - indeed when they put it down they wait around for your reaction because you may think that it's a cappuccino. They explain that halfway up the coffee cup is a chocolate hazelnut fondant, on top of that is a smooth, light salted caramel layer and crushed amaretti biscuits and then a layer of silky, luscious Italian meringue. The first spoonful yields mostly the top two layers but after that it's a layered delight.
As we sit and finish our dessert, we talk about the Sculpture by The Sea exhibit that had taken us to Bondi that afternoon just a few hours earlier. In one grand gesture, it had inspired us, tired us out and grown our appetites. Perhaps we could have gone for another dessert.
So tell me Dear Reader, do you often wait for your food to settle before ordering dessert? And how long does it usually take for you to feel full? Alas, it takes me about 15 minutes!
“The Hub”, Shop 2 / 75-79 Hall Street, Bondi NSW 2026
Dinner: Monday to Sunday (7 days): 5:30pm – late
Lunch: Saturday & Sunday: 12pm – 3pm