Walking through Braddon, you could be forgiven for thinking it hasn't been much affected by the global coronavirus pandemic. It's busy as usual, even on a Monday night - restaurants are filled with diners, groups of people wander down Lonsdale Street, and parking is still all but impossible.
I know, of course, that all hospitality businesses have been doing it tough. There was a period of mandatory closures, and now restricted numbers. The restaurants that are doing "well" have had to diversify and do things that they never would have thought of doing. Italian and Sons was one of them - a hatted restaurant offering takeaway at the height of the pandemic. We visited often, revelling in the delight of still-warm pizza and chocolate torte to go.
Now, behind the wooden door, the dining room feels cosy and familiar. I had expected it to be sparse, with tables spaced out, but it looks much the same as it did in pre-COVID times. It's busy as usual and despite having a booking, we are ushered through the restaurant into the back room which was once Bacaro. As it stands, Bacaro - the casual wine bar and eatery that was once a favourite Friday evening post-work hangout - is now an extension of the Italian and Sons dining room.
It feels a little awkward to start - we're placed at the back right up against the pizza oven, the lone diners in a room full of empty tables. Fortunately, the excellent wine list and music make it easy to forget. The 2014 Odoardi GB ($20 a glass) is one of the most exciting Italian wines I've tasted - full-bodied with rich chocolate and black fruit notes.
It's an $85, four-course menu and there aren't many choices to be made tonight. Well technically, there are two options for pasta and main, and three for dessert but my partner and I have an unspoken pact to share all courses (reluctantly on his part, enthusiastically on mine, so that I can try more food).
The Northern Rivers "vitello tonnato" is an updated take on a classic Piedmontese dish, and an elegant one at that. Perfectly cooked veal and both seared and confit yellowfin tuna come together in a modern surf and turf, while fried capers add tanginess and crunch.
Wood-fired scampi tails are excellent too; fresh, perfectly cooked and slightly smoky. A fennel and watercress salad add a welcome freshness and contrast.
To finish off antipasti, there's whole wood-baked king brown mushroom "in cartocchio" served on Jerusalem artichoke puree. Breadcrumbs and crispy sage leaves add texture and interest. It's a clever dish - oh so moreish, almost meaty and subtly smoky.
The back room is filling up now, and the atmosphere grows livelier with each seated table. A stalwart of the Trimboli brothers' restaurants, the first pasta dish is a ricotta, pumpkin and leek agnolotti dal plin. It's a well-thought out dish and one that I've loved in its many iterations over the years. This one is aniseedy, earthy and slightly sweet but the small portion size of just five agnolotti leaves me a little disappointed.
For an additional $28, there's an optional truffle course - hand-cut gnocchi al' tartufo, terra preta black truffle, butter and aged reggiano. The waiter explains it's an alternative course rather than an additional one, which is a little surprising given the amount of food so far. Never one to resist seasonal local produce I'm happy to pay the extra, but found the texture of the gnocchi unremarkable and the dish under-seasoned - the addition of some of Canberra's best in season truffles just wasn't enough.
Mains are a return to form, with both the barramundi and duck displaying an elegant simplicity and restraint. Both are served with simple accompaniments; the fish with a sweet and sour eggplant caponata, and the wood-roasted duck on parmesan polenta.
The waiter brings us all three desserts - which I'm grateful for because the cannoli, which I wouldn't have ordered ends up being a highlight of the night. It's probably the best cannoli that I've ever had - including ones I've had in Italy. The pastry is crisp, and has been freshly filled with ricotta and finished with tiny slivers of candied orange and pistachio praline.
The tiramisu doesn't have enough coffee for my taste, but the silky zabaglione over the top is luxurious, and helps temper the dryness. A favourite of mine, the flourless Amadei chocolate torte with chocolate sorbet and salted caramel popcorn is deliciously rich and decadent.
As always, it's hard to fault the food at Italian and Sons. As one of Canberra's best, you can always be certain that you're going to get a great meal when dining here. For the price of the set menu, I'm not overly full - the dishes feel small, and the meal lacks that Italian spirit of generosity. Even so, I still think you'd be hard pressed to find better quality Italian food in Canberra.
Italian and Sons
Address: 7 Lonsdale St, Braddon
Hours: Dinner, Monday to Saturday, from 6pm. Lunch, Thursday to Saturday, from noon.
Owners: Trimboli Group
Chef: Pasquale Trimboli
Noise: No issue
Vegetarian: Not a problem but best to let them know when booking