Popolo

Bianca pizza with porcini and thin pancetta shavings

Bianca pizza with porcini and thin pancetta shavings

Eating out regularly really takes its toll on your weight and health. I don’t know how some people eat out every night without ending up channeling Elvis in the fat years. The malted peanut rice squares I made recently also made me think of the old crooner. Is it any wonder I gave it all away?

Since late May, I’ve been participating in the Global Corporate Challenge so for 16 weeks, I’m meant to walk at least 10,000 steps per day. How am I doing? Okay actually! Some days I reach almost 20,000 steps and on rainy days when I haven’t left the house, I clock a paltry 5,000. I wouldn’t say I feel healthier, but I like having an idea of how much I’m walking each day.

On Saturday, I lunched in Rushcutters Bay at Popolo restaurant with some girlfriends. Popolo means ‘people’ in Italian and I’d been wanting to try their regional Italian food since it opened around June this year. Across the road from a BMW car yard and neighbours with a Lexus dealership, you could imagine that Popolo might be on the expensive side. It’s happily affordable and whilst empty when we arrived, it quickly filled with couples, groups and families ready for a lazy Saturday lunch.

We were a little early for our 12pm booking and had time to admire the hollow metal sculptures in the courtyard outside the Adanx building where the restaurant takes the ground floor. I peeped inside the sculptures and being daytime, it wasn’t so easy to notice from afar but they’re lit from within with blue and purple lights. They must glow like lanterns at night.

I ordered a negroni to start because I really love having an apertif and it came served on a cute Italian metal coaster. It reminds me of those vintage advertising posters for alcohol, travel, shows and cigarettes that now cost a pretty penny. One day I’ll tell you the story of the single vintage poster I own and how it took me months to track it down.

A special apertif coaster.

A special apertif coaster.

The Popolo wine list was confusingly dazzlingly long, divided into regions. If you know your Italian drop, then it’d be fun drinking your way through the list. I’m no wine buff and usually ask for a recommendation for something not too sweet and a little dry. Bruce our waiter was very helpful with both food and wine suggestions and while he picked a great bottle, I’m ashamed to say I can’t remember now what it was. But good work Bruce!

The five of us shared everything and that way, we were able to taste a large range of the menu. We started with two daily specials. First, a white pizza with porcini and pancetta. It was delicious and cooked Neapolitan style. We then chased it with half a dozen grilled scallops. I didn’t have my camera on me when I was at Duke Bistro last week and it’s as if I’m determined to make this an image-heavy post to make up for it. Bear with me as we scroll through the many plates sampled.

Grilled scallop - daily special

Grilled scallop – daily special

We were eating Italian style so next came the two pasta dishes. The first was fresh pasta with black pepper incorporated in the dough and a wild boar ragu. This divided the table – half loved it and the other half thought it was okay. I liked it, it was al dente and tasted like good ragu. I could have had more pepper but I’m a bit pepper obsessed.

Pepper flavoured pasta with wild boar ragu

Pepper flavoured pasta with wild boar ragu

Squid link tagliolini, calamari, artichokes, bottarga

Squid link tagliolini, calamari, artichokes, bottarga

Spong who ordered the squid ink pasta was a mildly disappointed with it and wanted a stronger squid taste to the noodles themselves. Everyone else was pleased with it. At least Spong was thankful we were sharing so she could eat other things too.

Crumbed pork cutlet was fine but it was never going to be incredibly exciting. It’s what you order when you’re an unadventurous eater.

Crumbed pork cutlet, filled pepper ricotta pistachio

Crumbed pork cutlet, filled pepper ricotta pistachio

I wish more places served quail. The skewered quails were juicy and moreish. What is it about things on sticks that make them so appealing to eat? Apart from corndogs…I waited years to eat one and when I did, I was repulsed. Maybe I tried one too late. I loved the spicy chicory the quails sat on and would definitely order it again. We also had perfectly cooked snapper.

Grilled spicy quails with spicy chicory

Grilled skewered quails with spicy chicory

Snapper with herb crust, roasted eggplant and cherry tomatoes

Snapper with herb crust, roasted eggplant and cherry tomatoes

Craving more vegetables, I insisted on two vegetable sides as well. Spongness made faces when she tried the fennel salad and remarked that fennel was an acquired taste. Which is surprising as she came over for both of my pie days last month and had liked my fennel and parmesan mash. Ignore her prejudices, it was a fantastic salad. Fennel and orange is a classic combination. The cavalo nero (aka Tuscan cabbage and a kind of kale) was tender and complemented everything.

Cavalo nero with pine nuts and sultanas

Cavalo nero with pine nuts and sultanas

Fennel, orange, green Sicilian olives, figs vincotto and toasted almonds

Fennel, orange, green Sicilian olives, figs vincotto and toasted almonds

Rum baba was Saturday’s dessert special but we ended up ordering just three desserts from the printed menu, the exact names of which escape me as I didn’t take a photo. But first was something that sounded like pannacotta but had another name. I asked Bruce about it and although it was named something like pannafranna…it’s basically pannacotta. It was set and served in a teacup. The fresh mint and orange on top was refreshing in contrast to the creamy vanilla pannacotta pannafranna.

Shhh...it's vanilla pannacotta with orange and fresh mint

Shhh…it’s vanilla pannacotta with orange and fresh mint

Lemon dessert with limoncello soaked sponge with lemon custard

Lemon dessert with limoncello soaked sponge with lemon custard. I’m a sucker for citrus.

My favourite of the desserts was the lemon soaked sponge with limoncello and a rather eggy lemon custard. It was meant to come with whipped cream but it was nowhere to be seen. Popolo’s tirimasu was served in a half sphere that had been lined with a chocolate and then filled with marscapone and coffee soaked sponge. Not very sweet and creamy, it was inverted and dusted with coffee (cocoa?) powder to serve. I’m not really into chocolate so barely tasted the casing but it seemed a bit thick and heavy.

Tiramisu. A thick chocolate cup is filled with marscapone and soaked sponge

Tiramisu. A thick chocolate cup is filled with marscapone and soaked sponge

We entered Popolo just as they were opening up at midday for lunch service and it was 3.30pm by the time we left. The service was great and we weren’t hurried at any point to leave or eat faster through the many plates shared. Popolo has just great and interesting regional Italian food and at a time when fancy, unapproachable fine dining is exported to people’s homes through TV shows like Masterchef, it can be a relief to eat something so normal, recognisable and delicious. Not to mention affordable.

Popolo
50 McLachlan Avenue, Rushcutters Bay NSW 2011
Open Monday-Sunday dinner from 5pm | Friday-Sunday lunch from noon
Phone: (02) 9361 6641
Email: reservations@popolo.com.au

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