Winter calls for warming Italian dishes in a family friendly, casual dining setting in Sydney's renowned Little Italy... right?
Capriccio Osteria is one of my favourite restaurants in Sydney. I took my family to dinner here with my first pay check and it remains high on our team hit list today.
There's still an historic Italian pedigree at Capriccio although not the same as at opening. Now it materializes from the kitchen with Head Chef Nicole Bampton having cooked at Lucio's, as well as Tetsuya's. And although that's an incredible foundation, it is marvellous to see her bringing the menu home here now with her own flare.
Under her helm, the menu has evolved considerably since the first time Scoop visited, and we are just as delighted with the current offerings as we wallow in the darker months of the Sydney year, seeking the usual comfort in good food, good wine and the company of friends and family.
Three simple headings subdivide Capriccio's current menu: Antipasti, Woodfired and Pasta. And Dessert, of course. Sharing is encouraged. For starters, Sydney Rock Oysters are served with a refreshing citrus & vodka granita ($4.50 each), Crispy Potatoes come with salsa rossa, aioli and smoked paprika ($13) and the smooth Chicken Liver Pate with blood plum jelly is almost overshadowed by the rich nuttiness of its accompanying hazelnut crisps ($9).
Pleasantly surprising are the Pea and Saffron Arancini ($15); arancini skeptics may even reconsider after tasting Capriccio's version, which is generous with the saffron and perfectly crisp. Duck Salad of tea smoked duck breast with celeriac, pickled quince, witlof and shaved brussel sprouts ($31) is less complex than expected, appropriately portioned and a solid option for a side salad if looking for something to complement a few mains.
Our pick from the Antipasti menu is the Ocean Trout, cured in beetroot and vodka and served with goats curd and smoked salmon roe ($26). The colour is a showstopping beetroot red and the flavours divine.
A classic Aperol Spritz ($13) is of course done well here, though if you're looking for something a little adventurous, give the Montenegro Sour a try. The amaro spirit commonly considered a digestif is reinvented as a pre dinner cocktail and we just love it.
One firm favourite that has never left the menu is Capriccio's home made Foccacia, woodfired bread with rosemary and sea salt bread served fresh from their woodfired oven ($5). Don't skip it.
The Chicken Wings ($16) are almost worth ordering just for the 'nduja mayonnaise, though they speak well for themselves too of course.
Winter vegetables are celebrated in delicious woodfired plates of Parsnip with labne, puffed amaranth and hazelnut ($16) and Brussels Sprouts with preserved lemon, walnut and pecorino ($15). The labne is made in house, and we are reminded that despite the cheese-like appearance it is indeed yoghurt based, and complements the dish very well. And the sprouts? Well, they're reasonable evidence that adding cheese to most things is helpful way to make the non believers reconsider. They are good. Maybe don't order them as your side if you're going for the Fettuccine (with guanciale, black pepper and pecorino, $27) as your main, because it can get a bit pecorino heavy... or do, if that's your thing.
Capriccio Osteria has always done pasta well. Spectacularly, sometimes. A Winter jewel of the current menu is the Saffron Cannelloni of veal & porcini ragu with tomato and fontina sauce ($35).
Squid Ink Spaghetti with blue swimmer crab, chilli & basil ($29) is delicate and not nearly as heavyhanded with the squid ink as sometimes occurs. The Basil Scialatielli with cherry tomatoes, pippies and mussels ($28) is another favourite with good portions of seafood and perfectly al dente handmade pasta.
On Tuesdays all pastas are $20 including a glass of the (very drinkable) house wine ($25 for the cannelloni). Unmissable value.
Other days see different specials, including half price drinks after 9pm on Fridays and Saturdays and half price children's meals on Sundays. Family gatherings are encouraged, particularly on Sundays, and the staff remind us they are keen to welcome children of all ages to facilitate family get-togethers.
If you manage to save room for dessert, try Cannoli ($13), Gelato ($5 per scoop) or a classic Affogato ($9, or $14 with amaretto).
Capriccio's wine list is a nice balance of Italian and Australian. For an easy everyday drinking option, their vino della casa (house wine) is absolutely worth a try, served from the barrel and with handy options of 1/2 or full litre carafes for sharing. The carafes themselves are gorgeous, too. The rest of the wine list aims to showcase some of the lesser known varietals coming out of Italy, hoping to help you fall in love with a new Italian grape.
Capriccio Osteria opens Tuesday - Sunday with different specials every day. Keep an eye out for their dedicated Thursday night Italian Regional dinners.