A Tuscan Feast at Andiamo Trattoria del Popolo, Chippendale

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

If you asked me as a child what my favourite cuisine was, my answer would have been Italian. I still adore pizza and pasta. I remember when dining out used to be all about enjoying simple, honest food. This was particularly so when we frequented our local Italian restaurants, which dished up home-cooked favourites free from the garnishings, ellusive dish names and ambiguous menus that seem to be so popular today.
Andiamo Trattoria del Popolo recreates that feeling of childhood nostalgia. It's a rustic, Southern Italian-influenced trattoria that prides itself in serving 'simple Italian favourites like your Nonna would make'.

The Andiamo family has three restaurants, the newest of which launched on Chippendale's Kensington Street little over a couple of months ago. The original Summer Hill restaurant has been in operation since 1997, and remains a firm favourite with locals. A second branch is located in Rhodes. 

Despite opening on one of Sydney's newest dining streets, you won't find a trendy squid-ink-tinted risotto or extravagant lobster spaghetti here. The menu revolves around traditional Southern Italian classics - think homemade meatballs, lasagne, mushroom risotto, veal scaloppine and traditional stone-baked pizzas. At a Tuscan feast hosted by Andiamo in celebration of their new opening, co-owners Jo and Val welcome us with open arms and tell us all about the restaurant's philosophy, which places a large emphasis on the concept of a shared table.

We being with a selection of antipasti. The polpette are one of the best I've had -  spongy, moist and seasoned with a touch of parmesan. To attain a pillow soft texture, the meatballs are slow-cooked in a rustic sugo that is sweet and vibrant red.

If the dream Italian combination of prosciutto and mozzarella is not enticing enough, it becomes even more heavenly when stuffed into round balls of arborio rice and fried to a golden crunch. These arancini are flavoursome and moreish; just the right size for a tasty appetiser. 

Spinach & ricotta fritters
These fritters are even lighter than the arancini. Green flecks of wilted spinach are dispersed throughout the fluffy white ricotta, and instead of the usual tomato sugo, they're propped atop a streak of rosa gorgonzola sauce. The gorgonzola adds an unusual but welcome tang to each mouthful.

Cozze Bianco
A rustic dish that embodies Andiamo's philosophy perfectly, these mussels are cooked simply with garlic, white wine, shallots and a touch of cream. We come to a consensus that the best thing about this dish is the pungent garlic flavour which imbues the shellfish. 

Pizza alla Norma
I am used to pizza strewn with long, thin slices of eggplant, but here it comes as a shower of darkened nuggets that are soft and silky on the inside. The eggplant is twice-cooked, which gives a slightly bitter flavour to the vegetable and adds an extra dimension of texture to the pizza, soothed by delicate blobs of white ricotta and fresh basil. Andiamo's pizza bases are quite sturdy, with a crust that is nice and crispy rather than soft and fluffy.

Pumpkin gorgonzola ($27.90)
This pizza takes everyone by surprise. It is utterly tasty; the base fragrant with garlic and coated in a layer of gooey gorgonzola that is not at all overpowering. The pumpkin is creamy and plentiful, and there is also sweet caramelised onion, pine nuts and a sparse shower of sage atop the white base. We can't quite work out what it is that makes this particular pizza stand out from the others, but everything just works, making it one of the stand outs of the night.

Salsiccia ($26.90)
Andiamo's Southern Italian style pizzas are stone-baked, with simple flavour combinations and liberal toppings. The Salsiccia pizza is an excellent example of this, with morsels of crumbled Italian sausage, bocconcini and basil. 

Gnocchi Tartufi ($28.90)
Unctuous pillows of gnocchi are coated in a glossy, truffle-flecked cream sauce that has the most alluring aroma and just beckons to be devoured. The pasta is a little firmer than other gnocchi, with a slight chew that provides a robust foundation for the ultra creamy sauce, which is not as rich as it looks. There is a slightly sour, lemon-like aftertaste to each bite that is a little out of the ordinary.

Spaghetti Marinara ($28.90)
This is the Spaghetti Marinara that every seafood lover would yearn for. There is an abundance of seafood tossed throughout the thick, rustic tomato sauce: calamari, fat tiger prawns, tender pieces of octopus and small vongole. A kick of chilli is a welcoming addition. I could happily have a whole bowl of this to myself and be content.

Tuscan slow roasted lamb, roast potatoes and Tuscan salad ($75, for two people)
This dish is one of Andiamo's signatures. A boneless lamb shoulder is marinated for 24 hours using a family recipe, then slow cooked in the oven until it falls apart with the gentle nudge of a fork. The cooking process creates a nice crust on the outside of the meat, and in true, rustic Italian style, is served whole with rosemary-roasted potatoes and a homemade gravy. 

This is no ordinary gravy, however - it's diffused with the sweet tang of lemon, which echoes the marinade and takes the meat to a whole new level. If shared and eaten along with some of the larger dishes on the menu, this shoulder could easily serve up to three or four. The price tag is a little higher than one would expect, but it is made with love and care, and is an impressively extravagant share plate.

Tuscan Salad

Rocker & shaved parmesan salad ($12.50)
The Tuscan salad that comes with the lamb shoulder is a fresh tumble of cos, diced cucumber, tomato and feta, with a simple balsamic vinegar dressing. An iconic rocket and parmesan salad has shavings of fresh parmesan and is tossed in a similar vinaigrette.

Tiramisu is the quintessential Italian dessert. Andiamo's is a tiramisu with a twist; it comes with a shot of espresso that we drizzle over before digging in. The piece has a good coffee-soaked biscuit to mascarpone ratio, and the accompanying panacotta ice cream is so devine that we have no problem gobbling it up with a grin on our faces, despite being full to the brim. 

Andiamo Trattoria del Popolo translates to 'let's go to the trattoria of the people', and rightly so. The restaurant is not your typical high end fine dining establishment, nor is it a cheap, no-fuss take away joint. It sits proudly in the middle as a humble restaurant for the people. 


Andiamo Kensington Street Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

I was lucky enough to dine as a guest, however all opinions are my own.

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