Classic CBD Italian.
MENU HIGHLIGHTS Tartufo, tartufo; lobster maccheroncini
AMBIANCE Angel Place regulars and after-work wine diners
WOULD I GO BACK? Not unless a new menu item catches my eye
Those who are familiar with Angel Place might remember Bacco Osteria, the location Leo replaces. The fit-out of the restaurant has barely changed, and the same wicker chairs line the exterior of the restaurant’s window along Ash Street. Leo is pitched as a collaboration between Karla Firla (ex-Oscillate Wildly) and Federico Zanellato (LuMi) which sets expectations of high quality, contemporary Italian food. A twist seems guaranteed. Turns out, Leo is much more restrained and traditional than either Oscillate Wildly or LuMi. No Japanese twist or fancy techniques here. Don’t get me wrong, though, I was not disappointed by this conservative approach – just surprised.
The most modern characteristics of the dishes are the portion sizes and the plates themselves. Is it a ridiculous trend for the food to be surrounded by a huge ‘brim’ (like a disproportionate, upside-down, shallow, top hat!), so that the diameter of the whole plate is twice the size of the food? I think this sort of plating should be reserved for the type of food that is equal parts Art and nourishment.
If you want to know what to order, I can speak for eight of the courses.
Tick – complimentary, warm bread comes out first. It’s not fluffy or particularly flavoursome, but I am hungry and easily pleased. The anchovy butter had the potential to bring it to the next level, but it was neither buttery, nor full of anchovy umami. I question whether this was made of margarine or some sort of oil-based butter. It was whipped, which is my favourite texture of butter for bread.
Cauliflower gratin ($18) overflows with béchamel sauce. Some people enjoy a light first course to cleanse the palate, whereas I feel most at home from when cheese first enters the pie hole. Crispy breadcrumbs, fontina cheese, plus can tell yourself you’re eating vegetables.
I thought the maccheroncini with lobster ($33) would be my favourite dish of the evening. Federico Zanellato’s name on the pasta set my expectations really high. This is my first time eating maccheroncini, which seems halfway between rigatoni and macaroni. The pasta and the lobster are faultless, but the bisque-like sauce was severely lacking in quantity. It was so delicious, but as you can see the bottom of the bowl, the dish was almost dry.
Although Alberto’s Lounge definitely does a better version of veal saltimbocca ($32), this one ain’t bad. I’m used to a more gravy-like sauce and more prosciutto, but this glaze was still sufficient to warm your soul on a winter evening. Inside is raw, fresh sage and pink baby cow schnitty.
Bluefin tuna crudo ($22) was a fatty delight, although strangely paired with marinated capsicum. The two do not go together, but they’re certainly flavoursome.
The most disappointing dish was the vacche rosse parmesan custard ($22). There was no mention of Parmigiano Reggiano, suggesting we’re not eating the good stuff (the difference between parmesan and the Italian original is explained well here). Then why the price tag for an absurd ratio of cracker to dip? In what world is this a custard? Answer: in a thicc world. This was a cheese paste, not a cheese custard, and there were only about 2 tablespoons at that.
Easily the stellar dish of the night was dessert. A $33 stack of tiramisu and truffle makes for a creamy, coffee luxurious treat. It’s one of those desserts you savour slowly without comprehending anything but what your tongue is thinking right now. Tartufo, tartufo (‘truffle, truffle’ in Italian) mimics you pining for more.