CIAO BELLA CUCINA!
I am passing the deli counter which is laden with prosciutto and pancetta, imported Italian cheeses and various delicacies made from them, and I catch a phrase which I recognise, and decode rustily.
“Sì – facciamo!” says the Italian man behind the counter. Proudly. Ah, yes! That means ‘Yes, we make’. This should really be the catch-cry of every fine deli, but so few do. And only those who have a kitchen the size and industrial strength of Cucina Viscontini could carry it off at this level.
This has to be one of my most exciting finds in a long time. Recently I was to meet a friend who lives on the other side of Sydney from me. We usually compromise and meet at a bakery at Homebush halfway. Tired of this, last time we planned lunch, I searched for other options and came up with Cucina Viscontini at Homebush Bay.
It must be over 20 years since I last ventured into this area. To say it has changed is an enormous understatement. I had expected a corner cafe, half-empty. When I arrived, the staff asked if I had a booking. Mid-week lunch? A booking?
But looking around at the enormous almost packed corner cafe, I realised we were lucky there was a spare table for two.
Homebush Bay since my last encounter with it when it was a marshy industrial blot, has morphed into a waterside suburb of apartments with attitude. Besides the tennis courts, smart cars and marked parking on the divided La Piazza, there are all the stylish accoutrements such residents need. Four years ago the owners of this large cafe and provedore recognised the need and set up something that ticks every resident’s box.
So good was my first luncheon experience (then, a simple and simply wonderful panini with salad and cheese and pancetta) that the other night I took my husband and an out-of-town friend to show off my discovery.
This time I had booked, and just as well. The verandah seating was as packed as at it had been that lunchtime. The dinner menu had specials ($22 or so) and we each had a simple meal of fluffy homemade gnocchi with pork ragù (me) risotto (Gordon) and meltingly tender lamb shanks (my friend). I don’t know if Cucina Viscontini has requisitioned a band of Italian nonnas to cook backstage here, but the food tasted like it. Sublime, honest, Italian comfort food. Ideal for a chilly work night evening. With glasses of house red and followed by a dish of lemon gelato from the gelato bar, it was as good (probably better) as anything we could have found in Surry Hills. And the parking was free!
What’s more, you can do your shopping here too. There is a very fine range of local and imported deli items. Tabletop grapes from Mildura, Abruzzo pasta in one aisle, biscotti and chilli sauces in another. There is ready-to-go pasta dishes in a tall fridge, a liquor store at one end, Italian breads and pizza al taglio (by the slice), and of course the deli fridge.
Beyond the brightly illuminated seductive abundance of cheeses and cured meat (and, of course, the gelati) there is one last counter to sidetrack your determination and snare a final sale. As you pay your bill, look, just look – well, maybe a little more – at the panettone and cakes and other pasticceria delights in front of you.
This place is an amazing little bit of Italy – in an unexpected place, certainly – but close enough to the Showgrounds, and the stadium and the freeway, that it’s definitely (DEFINITELY!) worth a detour.
Cucina Viscontini, Shop 4a &b, The Waterfront, 21 Bennelong Rd, Homebush Bay, NSW, 02 9739 8888, www.cucinaviscontini.com.au
GPS: (-33.8335336, 151.0745624)
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