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Cool, casual Italian

Bicicletta was part of an excellent buzzing food precinct here behind the Diamant Hotel before the fire last year that destroyed next-door Flint and the Parlour Wine Room. The fire also closed Bicicletta for some months, but it opened again, and now is on its own, a little beacon of warmth in the corner of a courtyard.

It's a fairly small, intimate space here, with that deconstructed decor so beloved of cool little eateries, with a wall of gorgeous green tiles and taps that have been turned into lights, the bulbs like huge droplets at the ends, and tealight candles on the tables.

The music is cool also. I'd call it swing, but I'm a bit vague about musical genres. Either way, it's upbeat and relaxed at the same time, you can hear it but it's not invasive, and it sets the right tone.

The theme in the food is Italian and the menu pretty similar to our last visit almost 18 months ago. Only this time, the execution feels like it's been stepped up a few notches, so that the food is really enjoyable, and like the set-up and the music, hits its mark pretty well.

Rosemary pizza ($12) is a good start, gently chewy, crispy, fresh and warm slices, more rosemary bread than pizza, with a bowl of olive oil. Really good.

Arancini balls ($10) are also highly enjoyable. I remember these from a previous visit as too big and unwieldy, but they're more refined on this visit. Four balls of loose cheesy, mushroom risotto, crumbed and deep-fried, but light despite that, and served with a not-overwhelming chilli and tomato sauce. Good also.

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Not so the bruschetta ($14) - three slices of bread topped variously with blue cheese, eggplant and tomato. The toppings are pleasant enough, but the bread (homemade, according to the menu) is in the French-stick style and tough enough that it's quite hard to chew. The dish comes on a silly metal frame, lifting it above the table. Perhaps this is a space-saving device, but our table is not so full that we need to arrange things in layers at this stage, and it's an affectation we could do without. This is not an entree that works, but it is the only negative note tonight.

Two pastas for main courses - one of potato gnocchi with Napoletana sauce ($22), the big, soft pieces of fresh-tasting gnocchi rather drowned in their tomato sauce. Less is more with pasta saucing, but that's not the case in tonight's dishes. The pappardelle with duck ragu ($25) has really good pasta that tastes freshly made, and a rich tomato and duck sauce. The little chunks of duck are plentiful, but their flavour is rather lost in the richness of the tomato. But, aside from the over-saucing, these are both decent, fresh, honest dishes.

There's a long pizza list. Somehow, we overlook the porcini and pork sausage pizza and order one with anchovies, capers, olives, oregano and mozzarella ($21). Not earth-shattering but there's nothing too much wrong with this as pizza, and again there's the clear imprint of fresh charry bases.

The wine list is brief, with about 10 reds and a similar number of whites, plus sparklings and a couple of roses. Pretty much everything is offered by the glass as well as the bottle, and they've chosen inexpensive wines, with a focus on Italian varieties - nothing above about $50. There's also a focus on Italian varities and a number of wines from Italy. Not a high-end list, but also not boringly generic, and in keeping with the casual, inexpensive feel of the place. As is service - fine and fairly attentive.

Bicicletta has delivered fresh, uncomplicated and satisfying food so far. But it's in desserts that we feel the biggest positive shift on previous impressions. The gelato list is still here - and again, we don't enjoy the chocolate, nor much the lemon sorbet that we order. But we do end up with two really nice desserts that have us leaving full of positive cheer. Mascarpone semifreddo ($14) is two big slices of frozen sweet, neutral and creamy confection - clean, cool and appealing. The pannacotta ($14) is creamy and quite rich, which I like a lot, normally finding pannacotta tasting tragically of nothing and light to boot, but the richness here is good. It's served with poached quince, sweet and still with a little crunch.

Canberra has an enormous number of mid-range eateries where you'll find pricier menus, less intimacy and interest in the surrounds and less care in the food than at Bicicletta. We'd return to this place in a jiffy.

Bicicletta

Address: 1/15 Edinburgh Avenue, Acton, in the New Acton development at the back of the Diamant Hotel

Phone: 6262 8683

Website: bicicletta.com.au

Owner: Kahli Khouri

Chef: Fred Fruean

Hours: Seven days, 7am-3pm Monday to Friday and 7.30am-3pm weekends, dinner 6pm-10pm

Licensed: Yes, plus BYO, corkage $15 a bottle

Vegetarian: Plenty of options

To pay: Visa, American Express, Mastercard, Diner's Club, Eftpos

Wheelchair access: Yes, including disabled toilets

Seats: 60 inside, 30 outside

Food 3/4

Wine list 2/4

Style 3/4

Value for money 3/4

Service 2/4

14/20

Summary: A cool, casual Italian with lots of decent homemade pasta and pizza.

11 something went wrong. 12 not so great tonight. 13 fine for a cheap and cheerful, not so for a place that aspires to the top end. 14 good. 15 really good. 16 great, when can we move in. 17-20 brilliant. The stars are a quick reference to the key highs or lows. They do not relate directly to the score

Kirsten Lawson is Food and Wine editor.

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