Much of the Italian food with which Sydney-siders are familiar either hails from southern Italy or consists of northern dishes (such as risotto) cooked by chefs with southern heritage. It’s a long way from the sparkling Mediterranean waters of Sicily to the snow-covered Italian Alps, and the food is also, understandably, very different.
There’s a lot about northern Italian food that we have yet to learn, and Alessandro Pavoni, whose cooking is firmly rooted in the traditions of his home region of Lombardy in Italy’s north, is on a mission to rectify this. With a CV that starts at Ristorante Carlo Magno under renowned chefs Iginio Massari and Giuseppe Maffioli, and moves through Michelin-starred kitchens such as Villa Fiordaliso on Lake Garda, it’s not surprising that Pavoni came to notice when he took over the burners at harbourkitchen&bar at Park Hyatt Sydney in 2005.
Of course he hankered for a restaurant of his own, where he could combine the traditional cuisine of his childhood with the fabulous fresh produce he discovered in Australia and modern techniques and presentation ideas. In November 2009 the dream became a reality when he opened Ormeggio at the Spit, suspended over the water at Mosman’s d’Albora Marina.
Ormeggio is Italian for ‘mooring’, and Pavoni says the Middle Harbour location reminds him of the beautiful lakes of northern Italy. The nautical setting lends itself to lots of wood, crisp white linen and large sliding windows and doors, giving an alfresco feeling even to inside tables. It also makes seafood a natural focus, alongside the game and risotto for which Lombardy is famous.
Charcoal-grilled octopus with cavolo nero, kale and dutch cream potato, and an excellent vitello tonnato using biodynamically-raised veal, make fine antipasti with a glass of sparkling Franciacorta as the setting sun lights up one of Sydney’s most beautiful waterways.
Pavoni is the risotto king, raising its making from an art form to a religion, so it’s hard to choose anything else as a primo. Flavour combinations are always exciting, and change regularly, whether it’s the earthy risotto of beetroot and gorgonzola or a more delicate one with oysters, prosecco and lemon.
As the last of the colour fades from the sky and the house lights on the Seaforth shore flicker like those of Limone on Lake Garda, dip a spoon into Alessandro’s Barbajada dessert (based on a Milanese winter drink of malted chocolate, coffee and cream), sip a good espresso and thank goodness for the fate that brought this passionate chef from Italy’s snowy Alps to Sydney’s sparkling harbour.
But great Italian food is about more than fine dining – it’s also one of the world’s most popular casual cuisines, and Alessandro has thrown his chef’s apron into that ring too with the wonderful waterside trattoria Chiosco (beside Ormeggio on Middle Harbour), Via Alta in Willoughby and Sotto Sopra in Newport.
Visit Allesandro's website, Ormeggio at the Spit, and Chiosco for more information.