When Tony Lo Terzo left Italian and Sons earlier in the year to open his own establishment, The Italian Place, he wanted it to be somewhere where people would feel at home.
"I want to create a place where people will come for the food and the service," he said, when we spoke to him in March; a place where you could pop in over the course of the day, for a morning coffee, for a panini on the run at lunch, or come in after work for a drink and kick on for dinner.
By all accounts people have been doing just that. We've heard there's a good morning's trade in coffee as people head into the city; lunches too, with people looking for something a little different, and drinks for sure. The drinks list here is extensive. And that's probably an understatement. There are three pages of wine, one of cocktails, another for beer and soft drinks, and then when you think it's done a page of "something special", a list of Italian and Australian varieties upward of $70 a bottle. I wonder what the 1993 Gromis Conteisa Cerequio Baralo, from Piemonte, at $440 a bottle would taste like, but that is one thing I will never know.
What I do know is that The Italian Place does feel like home. For some good reasons, and some which jar a little. We're seated in the corner up against the bar on the window that looks out onto Mort St, the bar stools are a good place to rest our handbags but everything feels a little cramped.
The Italian Place trades as a delicatessen too and on the shelves behind us there are packets of pasta and flour, cans of tomatoes, jars of sauces. It's authentic perhaps but I'm not sure I like it.
I do like the deli counter at the front, full of fresh pasta (which you can buy to take home), with cheeses and little desserts, meat hanging from hooks. I suspect during the day the place takes on a whole different vibe.
The menu focuses on what Lo Terzo was keen to do - rustic classic Italian dishes. There are several pastas, some meat dishes, four simple sides.
But tonight there's something a little chaotic about it all. We're waited on by four or five different people, and yes, Lo Terzo himself is as amicable as ever, happy to suggest a wine, to chat about how it's all going. He greets everyone who comes through the door, we're there early at 6.30, but even at nine people are still coming through the door and I'm wondering where he's seating them all in the narrow space down past the kitchen.
Nevertheless the food comes quickly. The menu focuses on what Lo Terzo was keen to do - rustic classic Italian dishes. There are several pastas, some meat dishes, four simple sides. Nothing instantly jumps out, which is kind of disappointing, so we start by sharing the antipasto della casa ($18) while we have another look and mull over the specials. The antipasto is simple, presented on a wooden board, a mix of salami, prosciutto, marinated eggplant, capsicum, a couple of little blocks of cheese, the stuffed porchetta is the highlight.
For mains we go with the scaloppina ai funghi, pan-seared veal backstrap deglazed with chianti, wild mushrooms and smoked potato mash ($32). It's not a pretty dish by any means, but the veal is tender and there's a good quantity of mushrooms. The smoked potato mash is a good complement, and is one of the tastiest things of the night.
The pasta dish we choose is the bavette alle vongole, long pasta with clams, chicory, cherry tomatoes, garlic and chilli ($28), something lighter to compare to the veal. The dish is disappointing, while the pasta is cooked to perfection, there isn't a lot of meat from the clams, a few empty shells, only four cherry tomatoes, and we suspect the chilli might have been left out because we can not taste it. The radicchio salad with pears, walnuts and gorgonzola ($10) is actually more flavourful.
We hope we'll finish on a high with dessert. There's a nice little selection, but we bypass the standard tiramisu, cannoli and gelato and go with a hot rum baba with orange creme anglaise ($14) and a vanilla honey panna cotta with poached quince ($14).
The panna cotta wobbles well and is creamy, the quince tender and not too sweet, but we can't finish the little cakey baba because the rum flavour is too overpowering. Even the anglaise doesn't temper the hit of the liquor.
Lo Terzo is a hospitable man and you can see exactly what he's trying to do here. It's only early days, and his concept is bound to work. Tonight it feels like everyone is just trying a little too hard and I want to tell them all to relax. Which is just what you want to do if you're coming to a place meant to feel like home.
The Italian Place
Address: 44/38 Mort St, Braddon
Phone: 6179 8812
Owner: Tony Lo Terzo
Chef: Francesco Petrillo
Hours: Monday-Friday, 7am-9pm; Saturday 10am-10pm; Sunday 10am-3pm.
Noise: No real problem but it's a small space.
Wheelchair access: Yes.
Vegetarian: Limited options