An equal fusion of comfort and fine Italian dining. A more innovative alternative to Buon Ricordo.
MUST ORDER Pasta (and wine if you’re into it); bugs
AMBIANCE Casual atmosphere, fine dining. Bonus points if you order in Italian
SERVICE The highlight of this restaurant. Friendly, generous and sharp
WOULD I GO BACK? For the truffle season
When I fine dine, I try to do the tasting menu. It’s more economical because it means when I leave, I feel l’ve given the restaurant a good go. The chef has discretion to serve her his/her best, and if that range doesn’t grab me, then I don’t need to worry about coming back. This one was $120 for a snack, bread and butter, six courses and two sides (I also got free dessert and a bottle of olive oil). Stoked.
Lucio’s has been serving Paddington for over forty years. It’s got that cliche (but real) family-turned-professional feel to it. One can’t help but make a direct comparison to Paddington’s other hatted family Italian restaurant Buon Ricordo. The parmesan was even shaved in front of me using the same contraption that Buon Ricordo use, which Google tells me is called a ‘rotary grater’. Sounds like I should invest in one. Overall, Buon Ricordo has more rich, flavoursome food, but it’s more expensive. Lucio’s has two hats, BR has one.
Things to love here: all of Lucio’s pastas are made daily, in house. There is no loud music, only low-level opera. It’s well-lit, with plenty of space between tables.
I found myself sitting across from one of the restaurant’s artists; and was given his book to flick through at the end of the meal. Bright artworks line the walls, following no particular theme, but it’s just like an embodiment of the restaurant’s spirit: vibrant and merry.
Lucio’s is smooth. I loved how their staff were always busy because they were always attending to people. Nevertheless, it felt as though I had my own personal waiter. For my bug risotto, I was brought a bowl, an extra plate and a little fork. I would blink and I’d have new cutlery with each course. They were perfect with my pet peeve: water. As soon as my glass was empty, it was refilled.
Starters were a complimentary, fishy snack of a ricotta biscuit with pickled fish (tasted like a rollmop), prosciutto di parma served with a trio of melons and a tuna tartare with ruby grapefruit, cucumber sorbet, citrus mayo and flying fish roe. All classic combinations, classically executed. No surprises. Quality.
Grilled honey bugs with fregola risotto of sea urchin and moreton bay bugs was the most innovative combo and my favourite dish of the evening. It was a warm bowl of creaminess, with sweet sea flesh. I am not sure whether there was cheese in there or it was just the sea urchin bringing in the butteriness, but I loved it.
The chestnut parpadelle and wild boar ragu and white asparagus was a highlight. The ragu was a bit dry but the pasta was exceptional. It was perfectly smooth and flavoursome. Another pet peeve avoided– they don’t cheat by adding flavour with oil. They are minimal with the oil, and everything is fresh enough to be moist enough by itself. I’m not a huge fan of white asparagus, but Europeans love it.
Fish of the day was barramundi and it was the nicest version of this fish I’ve ever had, purely because of the balance achieved of being moist but not oily. The skin was Saint-Peter-level perfect. SO. CRUNCHY. It had inspired additions of puffed wild rice, leek oil, little minkin pumpkin pieces with pumpkin skin cooked in honey. The honey must have contaminated the rice, pepitas and sunflower seeds, because my tongue mistook it all for candied popcorn. I would have liked more citrus.
Lamb with a salad of buckwheat and barberries, carrot gel and buttermilk sauce was technically perfect (perhaps a bit too pink for me), but the buckwheat salad was so delicious and interesting. Buckwheat is hard to cook right, and this was perfect. The carrot and buttermilk additions didn’t add any significant flavour. A tunnel of thyme ran through the three pieces which markedly lifted the lamb.
Two simple sides screamed, “we know how to cook!” The salad with radicchio, fennel and rocket was so fresh and delightful, due to (I was told) a dressing of shallot oil, grapeseed oil, white and chardonnay vinegar and their Cudgegong olive oil. I was surprised at my own reaction, since I usually find radicchio and rocket to be too bitter (my least favourite salad ingredients). Here, I finished the whole salad bowl. Likewise, I usually resist an uninteresting, perfectly-cooked potato, but the hand-cut potatoes with fried and tossed in rosemary salt and garlic were so crunchy that I dove in against my will.
As a surprise, the manager brought me two white chocolate and ricotta cannoli served with strawberries. Yum (but not as good as Rosetta’s).
It’s worth mentioning the wine here, because most of the tables around me were giddy with vino. At least two of them were practicing their basic Italian with the staff (despite being Aussie af), who were responding helpfully. During my sitting, two people asked Matteo, the manager, if he would source wines for them. Matteo told me Lucio’s keep business cards almost purely for the purpose of writing down wine recommendations for eager customers.
Overall, servings were generous, technically well done and the ingredients were fresh and of a high quality. One thing (that is not a complaint, but just a reason holding me back from being in love with this restaurant) was the subtlety of flavour in all the dishes. Contrary to expectations, I did not find it overly rich and I think they could turn the volume up a bit on everything: more seasoning, more wine (in the risotto and ragu), more cheese, more herbs, more animal fat, more sauce…The bread was a bit of a miss too (unlike Buon Ricordo’s where the free, warm, thick bread is a highlight). I figure they bring this out to everyone, so it sits somewhere in the meantime getting stale.
A sucker, like the other customers, for a bottle of Lucio’s, I came away from the restaurant with my own flagon of olive oil.
Visit date: 22 May 2018.