Saturday, 22 November 2014

Lucio's Italian Restaurant, Paddington - 15 Nov 2014

Long, lazy weekend lunches are something that I love to do, but don't do often enough. I mean what better way is there to unwind after a long week at work  than to enjoy good food with great company and be served by friendly, attentive waitstaff? Both my wife and I decided that we deserved a little treat (namely Alba white truffles, more on that later!) so we checked out the 2-hatted Lucio's Italian restaurant, an institution in the Sydney dining scene. 

The man behind Lucio's is Lucio, obviously. Well Lucio Galleto to be precise. Lucio's opened in 1981 in Balmain and moved to Paddington in 1983, which it has occupied since. Lucio is from a family of restaurateurs in Liguria in North-West Italy so it would only be natural for Lucio's to be a family run restaurant with his wife, Sally, son, Matteo and daughter, Michela all involved in running the restaurant.

Art restaurant: the art collection alone justifies the trip out to Paddington!

Lucio is an avid art collector and some of his collection can be found hanging on the walls of the restaurant. Dining at Lucio's is like you've stumbled into an art gallery. Some of the works are from leading contemporary Australian artists, who are also regulars at Lucio's. For his contributions to the arts as well as being a restaurateur and an author, Lucio was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia in 2008. The art works on the wall and the restaurant's natural lighting create a bright and charming dining room that's fun, relaxed and perfect for weekend lunches.

John Olsen graces the covers of the menu

Lucio’s menus features traditional, authentic northern Italian cuisine with a focus on the fresh, seasonal produce, which reflects the restaurant's motto: "we follow the season, not the fashion”. The head chef at Lucio's is Nicole Bampton (ex-Tetsuya's and ex-Sepia). Amazingly, Lucio's have only had 3 other head chefs in its thirty years of operation.

I'm not sure if there is a more passionate, energetic and likable front of house person than Lucio in the Sydney restaurant scene. As soon as you set foot in the restaurant, you are greeted by the man himself and treated like an old family friend despite being a first time customer. The service at Lucio's is some of the best that I have encountered anywhere in Sydney. Not only was everyone was helpful and professional (as you would expect at a fancy restaurant like Lucio's), the service was friendly and relaxed and all the staff were happy to have a good laugh with the diners. It's just good old fashioned, warm Italian hospitality at Lucio's!

Sourdough roll, butter, olives
Set at each table upon arrival was a small dish of olives coated in some of the finest olive oil from Liguria and sourdough rolls, which were still warm as they had only just arrived from the baker. If I had to guess, the rolls were from Iggy's Bread.

Burrata, crushed broad beans, mint ($22.50)
My wife and I decided to share the burrata, crushed broad beans, mint and Lingurian olive oil to start the meal. This was a simple, yet highly enjoyable starter with high quality ingredients. Burrata is often runny in the centre, but this one was more soft and creamy rather than oozing.

Let it rain white truffles!
Now onto the ingredient that convinced me that I had to make the trek to Paddington from the west: Alba white truffle!  Readers may know that I have  a small obsession with truffle. I go nuts over the aroma and flavour of truffles! The white truffle from Alba (in Northern Italy) is stuff of legends. It is widely considered to be the best truffles in the world and can only be grown in the wild (and not farmed) for a few months of the year (October and November being peak season). Lucio's is one of the few restaurants that I am aware of in Sydney that imports white truffles each year and has even created white truffle menus in previous years.

Pasta of the day - Pappardelle, truffle butter, Alba white truffles ($50)
Lucio's pasta of the day was pappardelle tossed in white truffle butter, with fresh white truffles and Parmigiano Reggiano shaved at the table. We each ordered the truffle pasta, since there was no way either of us were going to share. Like all of Lucio's pastas, the truffle pasta was served simply, allowing the magic of white truffle to shine. Predictably the flavour and aroma of the white truffle was pungent and sent me into raptures. 

Not to be out matched are the pasta at Lucio's, which are made in house daily.  The pasta is some of the finest you will find in Sydney. The pappardelle were thick ribbons of the silkiest pasta while retaining a delightfully firm bite. I ate this bowl of pasta slowly so I could savour the taste of truffle for as long as I could.

Lucio showing one of his waiters how pesto pounding is supposed to be done!

I like a bit of theatre and one of Lucio's specialities is their pesto, which is freshly pounded at the table. Not listed on the menu is a basil pesto pappardelle, which we noticed during this meal is a favourite amongst their regulars (cue for me to remember to order next time!). Watching the pesto being pounded made me realise how simple pesto really is to make and question why I would even buy it from a jar. Sometimes the best things in life are the most simple!

Grilled asparagus, parmesan ($18)
We were both already quite full by this stage, so it was a good thing that my wife opted for some grilled asparagus with grated Parmesan. I tried one of the spears and I was amazed with the quality of these asparagus. They were wonderfully thick, juicy and flavoursome. So good that we'd both happily eat them on their own.

Black handkerchief pasta with cuttlefish, mussels, prawns & chilli ($32)
While every other table seem to order the green taglioni with blue swimmer crab tossed in a rich tomato sauce, which has been a signature dish of the restaurant since day one, I ordered the restaurant's other signature pasta:black handkerchief pasta with an assortment of chopped seafood (cuttlefish, mussels, prawns), garlic, chilli and finished with a generous drizzle of olive oil. Again, this was a minimalist pasta dish with fresh, simple and amazing flavours and silky sheets of pasta. The chilli in this dish is quite subtle though so I would have preferred the chilli to have packed more of a punch.

Campari babá, ruby grapefruit & mandarin sorbet with white chocolate & citrus curd ($17)
By the time we got to the decision of whether to order desserts, we were both filled to the brim. But how could we leave without trying one of Lucio's desserts? So we opted to share one of their lighter offerings: a baba cake soaked in Campari; with a ruby grapefruit & mandarin sorbet; fresh segments of ruby grapefruit and mandarin; and a white chocolate & citrus curd. The baba was light and moist, the sorbet was tangy refreshing and the white chocolate and citrus curd was moreish. Like the savoury courses, dessert was simple yet incredibly delicious!

Almond biscotti
A plate of almond biscotti marked the end of what was one of the most memorable weekend lunches that I've had in Sydney for quite some time. Based on this meal, I would have to say that Lucio's is one of my favourite Italian restaurants in Sydney and I can't wait for a return visit to try more of their menu.

Lowlight: Said truffles are available for limited time only.   
Overall: It might cost a bit, but Lucio's is a Sydney institution serving some of the finest Italian food in town. The food is authentic and served simply and highly satisfying. The service is warm, friendly and attentive. 8/10 (Excellent)

Lucio's Italian Restaurant
Address: 47 Windsor St, Paddington NSW 2021 
Contact no: 02 9380 5996 

Lucio's on Urbanspoon