Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Osteria di Russo & Russo, Enmore - 18 July 2014

I love a great suburban restaurant - a more casual, relaxed experience in an intimate dining room that is buzzing with chatter and positive energy. Unfortunately I don't have one in my own neighbourhood; so this brings me to Enmore, the home of one of my favourite suburban restaurants in Sydney, Osteria di Russo & Russo.

The man behind the pans is young gun chef, Jason Saxby, a former winner of the Josephine Pignolet Young Chef of the Year award, who has had stints at Quay, Pilu, Bridge Room, Per Se in New York and The Ledbury in London.

Jason Saxby's Instagram feed is a tease for truffle fanatics like myself. There is a quote: "truffles are limited only by the imagination of the chef". Saxby is a creative chef so I doubt he is going to have too many problems finding ways to use truffles. In fact, he seems to come up with new truffle dishes on a weekly basis. No other reason was required for a repeat visit to Osteria.

The dining room at Osteria
The menus at Osteria is stuck to pages of second hand books, in our case a worn-out cookbook containing recipes for microwave dinners; our waiter assured us that there is no microwave in the kitchen. The food at Osteria draws on classic Italian flavours but Saxby uses modern cooking techniques and local ingredients to add his own twist to the classics. The courses are designed to be shared; there is an a la carte menu and a chef's selection of 6 courses for $65, which can be adjusted to cater for my wife's vegetarian diet. We decided to go for the chef's selection and opted for the special truffle course to be included, which attracted a $7.50 truffle surcharge per person.

Course 1
House made ricotta, beetroot, balsamic rye, bitter honey, basil, quandong
The first course was a sharing plate of house made ricotta and beetroot. This was no ordinary beetroot and cheese salad. Soft, creamy curds of ricotta with the sweet, earthy beetroots may be an obvious pairing, but the addition of balsamic rye crumbs, bitter honey and quandongs turned this into quite an exciting and balanced dish. We're off to a great start!

Course 2
Chargrilled veal tongue, Bagna Cauda, house truffled dwarf peaches, pickles, smoked salt
The next course arrived as 2 separate plates, so my wife and I would not be sharing. The chargrilled veal tongue was stunning; imprinted with beautiful grill marks, the tongue had a wonderful charred, smoky flavour and was so tender that it literally melted in the mouth. The tongue came with a creamy Bagba Cauda dipping sauce, house truffled dwarf peaches and pickles for acidity.

Charred eggplant croquette, zucchini, preserved lemon, green olive, lemon myrtle ash 
My wife's charred eggplant croquette was deep-fried deliciousness. Inside the crispy exterior was a creamy, smoky eggplant filling that would wow vegetarians and meat eaters alike. Zucchini, preserved lemon, green olive and lemon myrtle ash all bring contrasting yet complimentary flavours to the dish.

Course 3
Carnaroli risotto, nettles, mushrooms, Manjimup truffles
Then the dish that I came for arrived: a luscious, green Carnaroli risotto with nettles, mushrooms with Perigord black truffles from Manjimup in WA. Problem was, the moment I went to the bathroom, Jason Saxby arrived at the table with truffle and micro-plane in hand ready to freshly shave the truffle over the risotto. After Jason discovered that I had gone to the loo, he asked my wife whether he should come back, to which my wife responded, "I think you should, Chris won't want to miss this". Haha, thanks, you know me too well!

Any way, was the truffle risotto good? You bet! The heat from the risotto released the heady aroma of the truffle, which perfumed the entire dining room and had me swooning. I was in heaven with each spoonful of this rich, creamy risotto with its al dente grains of rice, which carried the intoxicating earthy flavours and umami of the truffle. Unfortunately this course had to be shared because I wanted the whole plate to myself! 

Course 4
Pork cheeks, Jerusalem artichoke, brussel sprouts, mushrooms, prunes, spelt and hazelnut crumble
My last savoury course of the night was inspired by tiramisu. This seemed strange at first but the combination of chocolate, coffee, alcohol and cream was used to form the basis of this dish. The result was a rich, tasty dish but really well-balanced and had a great use of different textures. 

There were cocoa nibs, which were the chocolate element, and coffee caramelized hazelnuts (absolutely loved these!) and chicory root powder, for the bitter coffee flavours. The alcoholic element was from the prunes agrodolce and the cream from the Jerusalem artichoke puree. All these sweet, savoury, and bitter elements went remarkably well with the slow cooked pork cheeks, which were amazingly tender and delicious.
Charred heirloom carrots, radicchio, buffalo yoghurt, golden raisins, spiced walnuts
My wife's last savoury was another enjoyable dish with a great balance of flavours and textures. The heirloom carrots were sweet, earthy and flavoured with spices. The radicchio provided bitterness; the buffalo yogurt was tart and creamy; the golden raisins added sweetness and the spiced walnuts added another bitter element as well as texture.

Course 5
Monte Veronese, quince, pine nuts, pane carasau
The fifth course was a cheese course. Luckily for me (since I have a dislike for strong, pungent cheeses), this cheese was quite mild and to my taste. The Monte Veronese was soft and creamy - great with some quince paste, candied pine nuts on a thin, crispy pane carasau.

Course 6
Mandarin, Vividus olive oil sponge, sheeps yoghurt, black olive, lemon balm
The dessert course was called mandarino on the menu, so no prizes for guessing what this dessert tasted like. There were 5 different preparations of mandarin and the entire fruit is used including the seeds: there were fresh segments, sherbet, gel, meringue and sponge cake. This was quite a refreshing and enjoyable dessert since mandarins are my favourite seasonal winter fruit  My favourite was definitely the sherbet, so tangy and intense in flavour. I did find the olive oil sponge slightly rich and I thought a scoop of mandarin sorbet would have gone nicely with the cake.

After dinner smoke? Petit fours of house made "Ferrero Rocher"
And for petit fours, we were served Osteria’s own version of "Ferrero Rocher", which tasted remarkably similar to the actual thing. And in their light-hearted way,  these were presented in an Imperial Club Virginia Cigarettes tin and the bill was slipped into a book titled "Modern Sex Life".

This was another fantastic meal at Osteria; the food this time round impressed me even more than my previous visit. It is clear that Osteria is going from strength to strength, so repeat visits are certainly in order. The $65 chef menu with six different courses is amazing value and not one to be missed.

Highlight: Truffles!
Lowlight: The dim lighting. Fantastic for mood but the bane of all food bloggers' existence.
Overall: I think Osteria di Russo & Russo is one of the more under-rated restaurants in Sydney. I really enjoy the casual, relaxed atmosphere and friendly service. The food delivers in a big way with big flavours and great textures. I don't think Osteria would look out of place with a chefs hat. 8/10 (Excellent)  

Osteria di Russo & Russo
Address: 158 Enmore Rd, Enmore NSW 2042
Contact no: (02) 8068 5202

Osteria di Russo & Russo on Urbanspoon