La Pesa

LaPesa_08 When  people find out what I write about, they often ask predictable questions. 

What's your favourite cuisine, is a common one. (Answer: whatever I'm currently enjoying).

Then they'll follow up with, what's your favourite restaurant? Are they kidding? Do they mean for tonight or an inexpensive midweek snack, something casual or service-plus? In the city, out of town, big date, romantic..?

Ah, romantic. That's always a tricky one. What makes a restaurant romantic? Views, candles, shadowy corners?

I don't really know, but next time someone asks me for a romantic hint (restaurant-wise) I am going to steer them towards my new favourite place in Darlinghurst.

Views? Nup. Candles? Can't remember. Low light and unobtrusive tables? Yes, several small rooms and cosily intimate corners. Is one out of three enough?

LaPesa_01A big fat YES, in my opinion, because newly opened La Pesa Trattoria in Liverpool Street also offers some other delightful ingredients to the romance formula.

Firstly there's the cuisine, an here it's one that's definitely up there on my all-time favourites - the richly rewarding and hearty comfort food of northern Italy.

Then there's the menu itself. It's one of those where I found it almost impossible to choose just two or three dishes. "I want them all!" I whine when faced with the choice between pappardelle with duck ragu and figs and osso buco or braised rabbit ravioli. When my meal arrives (yep, couldn't resist the pappardelle) it is everything I'd hoped for - rustic, homespun, tasty, generous. Authentic.

Owners Maki and Michael Dackiw met in Milan. Chef Marco DeVecchi was born there. Ecco-la! A restaurant partnership made in Italian heaven. And of course there was no discussion as to which cuisine they would feature. It would be seasonally changing, too, they decided, to  adequately feature  the region's many dishes.
La Pesa's décor, like the menu, is not pretentious. But it's quality: solid, rough-hewn timber tables left bare, mirrors that extend the space and add angles, bottles lined-up along top shelves, dark tiled floors, high heritage ceilings. A series of original black and white photographs by celebrated Milanese photographer, Virgilio Carnisio, tell  the city's story and add just the right arty accent.

LaPesa_07There's the feel of the fashion capital of Italy - and with good reason. It's modelled directly on the award-winning Milanese trattoria, La Pesa Milano of which Maki was a business partner for over five years.

Whatever you do, you must try some of the antipasti here. I know, Italian generosity inserts a whole extra course in menus, but just do it. You'll be glad you did. The gnocco fritto is a plate of sublime bloated little feather-light pillows of fried .. nothing, really. Not a kilojoule in sight, I'm sure! Stuffed with slices of bresaola, and prosciutto they are a sublime way to begin your experience.

The team run the place seamlessly. Maki works the floor while Michael organises the drinks and is justly proud of his themed cocktails and carefully compiled wine list where Australian and European vintages are equally well-represented. "I'd rather carry a great selection of wines," he says, "than a huge selection."

LaPesa_05Chef DeVecchi is in charge of the trattoria's kitchen, of course. With experience in Italy and Milan, his recent Sydney bio includes Big Mama at Woollahra, Love Supreme at Paddington and Young Alfred at Circular Quay.

Even though it's a blustery mid-week evening, we arrive to find diners at most of the tables in the main room. A group near us chats about recent trips overseas. Another two have come here directly from the airport.  A couple snuggle in another corner. I find myself wishing this was our local trattoria, too.

LaPesa_03bMaki tells us that La Pesa is just as popular for lunches amongst the local business people. I add the word 'discreet', along with romantic, in my notebook. Great for confidential lunch meetings. And even though La Pesa is new, already it has proved popular for functions and catering.

As we indicate we have finished our meal, Maki comes to our table. "You should try our gelato," she says, then adds, unnecessarily, "it's very good!"

Persuaded, we beg for just one serve and two spoons. It could have come from a nonna's kitchen, and of course we love that too. Ditto the Il Espresso coffee 'from just up the street'. "We like to support the locals," explains Maki.

The meal has seduced us. We're hooked on this place and the love and attention that has been poured into it.

Now all I need to do is come back and try a few of those other dishes!  

La Pesa Trattoria, 172-174 Liverpool Street, Darlinghurst, 02 9331 4358,  Open lunch from noon, weekdays; dinner Monday to Saturday from 6pm.


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