“I wanted to cook where I come from”.
During a visit last year to his ancestral home of Basilicata in Southern Italy, Tony Sabia decided it was time to bring the cuisine served at his Woolloomooloo eatery Puntino Trattoria (www.puntino.com.au) back to basics – back to where he came from. This is evident from Puntino’s menu which features none of the typical or generic Italian restaurant offerings. Most of the pasta dishes, for example, are either vegetarian or based around cured meats and sausage varieties. In fact salamis feature quite heavily on this menu. Tony and his family work with butchers to produce salamis that are in line with the Southern Italian authenticity they deliver in their restaurant.
Tony has a passion for fresh, locally sourced ingredients. Some of these ingredients are so local that they come from his own backyard! He grows all his herbs himself and the eggs for his fresh homemade pasta come from his own chickens. (His mother makes the pasta!) His recipes come from his home town – he speaks with pride about his tiramisu recipe which was given to him twenty-five years ago and which he hasn’t altered one bit since. (More on that tiramisu later!) Tony also shows a desire to continually learn about food and produce. His focus is on the best quality ingredients he can find, regardless of where they come from. He doesn’t feel the need to source everything from Italy. He prefers to find high quality produce locally so that it reaches his restaurant, and ultimately his diners, as fresh as possible.
One of this restaurant’s points of difference is its woodfire oven. Not content on using it for pizza alone, the meat and fish specials at Puntino are roasted in the woodfire oven. Tony is proud of this and will bring you out the uncooked cuts of meat which are the special of the day to show you before you make your selection from the menu.
On that note, let’s get down to food. On our visit to Puntino Trattoria, we began with an Antipasti Platter, beautifully presented and loaded up with delicious rustic Italian offerings. The platter featured smoked mozzarella, dusted with a merlot salt that added a very mild tartness to offset the smoky nature of the cheese, a beautifully seasoned frittata with generous slices of onion throughout, and a rich and juicy roasted field mushroom. Meats included Capicola, Soppressata and Mortadella. At the centre of the platter was a stuffed roasted capsicum, surrounded by grilled zucchini and asparagus, and fresh tomato and rocket to cleanse the palate. With the antipasti came slices of Puntino’s homemade bread (baked in the woodfire oven of course!).
Tony describes the perfect pizza slice as one that holds up firm, but with a slight limp when held. Tony also cooks the perfect pizza. We had the Badabing – hot salami, roasted capsicum, olives and chilli, with generous helpings of fresh mozzarella. It was a great pizza. The toppings were nicely measured and their rich flavours finely balanced. The dough was light, fresh and firm with a thin base and slightly thicker crust.
We also ordered one of the specials of the day – Blue Eye Cod. It came served with a salsa of fresh diced tomatoes, red onion and olives, coated with a generous serving of Lomondo Extra Virgin Olive Oil from Mudgee. The fish flaked beautifully and the olive oil gave an added richness and depth of flavour to the dish. Alongside the fish and salsa were some rosemary roasted potatoes and seasonal vegetables. It was a fresh, light and tasty dish.
For dessert we ordered the Italian doughnuts and, of course, Tony’s tiramisu. The doughnuts were light, fluffy and gently coated in fine sugar. For my taste I would have preferred there to have been more chocolate sauce with them – but I can never have enough chocolate sauce! Overall a pleasant dish. Now to the tiramisu… I’ve been let down by tiramisu before. The coffee can be overpowering, the consistency soggy. Tony’s twenty five year old recipe is so far removed from the bad experiences I’ve had previously that it’s almost like a completely different dessert. The coffee infused mascarpone coating is smooth and delicate, while the cake itself is perfectly moistened while retaining its structure. It’s the best tiramisu I’ve ever eaten, and I’d venture to say the best tiramisu in Sydney.
Puntino is all about Tony. He is the heart and soul of the place. Not just in terms of his Southern Italian menu or his homemade ingredients, but as a physical presence, sitting down and talking to customers at one table, serving food to another. He will walk you to the door when you’re finished your meal, shake your hand and invite you to come back again. This pure Italian hospitality – in fact, hospitality in general – is missing from a lot of restaurants these days. It gives a genuine warmth to the ambience of Puntino, and coupled with the great food on offer makes this restaurant one to remember. Puntino is BYO (wine only) and perfect for groups. It has a courtyard for al fresco dining, and images of Basilicata are projected onto the wall of the courtyard in the evenings to add to the authentic southern Italian experience. RG
Puntino Trattoria, 41 Crown Street, Woolloomooloo