Following our visit to L’étoile it seemed our dining-out bugs had well and truly been bitten. So with Dr King’s birthday being just around the corner, this was excuse enough for Kiki to arrange a surprise dinner for him to enjoy one of his favourite cuisines: Italian. And the restaurant of choice was none other than the Sydney Morning Herald two-hatted Lucio’s.
Parking is fairly easy to find around the back residential streets in this part of Paddington – just watch out for the one-ways. We end up parking near Kiki and Dr King and shuffle together through the cold Sydney air around the corner to the restaurant. We are early and only the second table on a Tuesday evening. The staff see that I have a large handbag and provide a bag hook from which to hang my bag from the edge of the table – a rather attentive touch.
The inside of the restaurant is warm and inviting with Tuscan appeal, where the walls are adorned with the works of Australian artists.
Gingerbreadman arrives soon after and we start poring over the contents of the menu. It is thankfully not crowded with too many options but I get a bit lost with the Italian! Dr King is put in charge of choosing us a wine again and we toast to his birthday. In the meantime we are presented with grissini and bread rolls with butter. We chomp away before realising that we’d like to have our bread with the traditional olive oil and balsamic vinegar. The staff happily bring us some on request.
Dr King begins his meal with the ‘Taglioni alla granseola’. It is a delicate dish of fine green pasta with blue swimmer crab in a tomato sauce. He is lover of noodles of any description so it does not surprise us that he has gone with this choice!
Monsieur Poisson has chosen his favourite scallops in the dish ‘Cappesante avvolte in pancetta’. The scallops are wrapped around their circumference with thin pancetta, instead of over the top as per usual. As a result, all sides have been seared evenly to crispy perfection to encase a just-cooked interior. The scallops sit atop a salad of witlof, grapefruit and walnuts – there is slight bitterness, crunch, acidity and sweetness.
I order the primi special of ‘Zuppa di vongole e cannellini’. It is a creamy puréed cannellini soup with vongole, served with garlic crostini on the side. It is smooth and warming and manages to retain its heat right til the bottom of the bowl.
Gingerbreadman has the ‘Fazzoletti neri ai fruitti di mare’ which is black handkerchief pasta with cuttlefish, mussels, prawns and chilli. The little black pasta sheets are glossy and slippery smooth with a light coating of salty, garlicky sauce. The white seafood pieces and coral mussel pieces are a lovely visual and textural contrast. Kiki skips primi in favour of having a larger portion of this pasta as her main meal.
After our selection of primi all revolving around seafood, we finally see some food arrive on our table that consists of meat. I have ordered the ‘Saliccia e pancetta di maialino in brodo con lenticchie’ – a beautiful dish of pork belly and smoked sausage simmered in broth, served with lentils and baby vegetables. The dish is brought out in a lidded casserole and placed on a nearby side table before the contents are plated up in front of us. The visual performance is tantalising and the depth of aromas wafting across to us titillating.
The vegetables are tender and the broth imparts flavour to everything. The pork belly is soft and easily shreds apart although I had expected the amount of lentils to resemble a small pile as opposed to just a few scattered throughout. At the end of the meal I have a pool of golden brown liquid left on my plate and feel saddened by the loss of not knowing how to consume it.
Dr King has ordered himself the ‘Anatra arrosto con topinambour e scorza d'arancia’ which comes with two sizeable pieces of balsamic roasted duck teetering on a bed of Jerusalem artichokes with orange peel. This dish is dubbed ‘charcoal’ by us due to its dark colouring but tastes much better than our description thankfully! The balsamic is sweet through roasting and has rendered the duck nice and crispy.
Gingerbreadman has the ‘Quaglie in foglia di vite con rattatuia’ which is roasted quail wrapped in vine leaves served with smoked tomato ratatouille. The quail is presented laying rather seductively on its side with most of its body covered with vine leaves. The meat is tender and smoky.
Monsieur Poisson goes for the seafood option again with the ‘Risotto ai ricci di mare con medaglioni di trota salmonata’ which has sea urchin blended into the risotto, imparting a slightly fishy flavour, with thin coral slices of salmon rolled tightly into medallions. Dr King loves risotto but gave this a miss due to his aversion to sea urchin. I, too, have a mild aversion to the fishiness of sea urchin but find the flavour is quite subtle and the chilli oil, which is not too hot, helps to conceal any pong.
Dr King, Kiki, Monsieur Poisson and I decide to share the ‘Assaggi’ tasting plate of desserts. It arrives prettily presented on a large square plate with a date and walnut pudding with butterscotch sauce, Pedro Ximénez ice-cream, Italian doughnut filled with sour cherries in vanilla custard, chocolate and polenta tart and mandarin sorbet. We are told the ice-cream is designed to go with the custard, the sorbet with the tart while the doughnut has its own custard. The ice-cream is sticky and sweet against the pudding which has fine shreds of date through it. The tart filling is quite dense sitting in a delicate pastry and the sorbet is very refreshing. The doughnut is denser than I expect with quite a sour centre, but the custard is thin and light.
Gingerbreadman greedily has a ‘Panna cotta con consomme di rabarbaro’ to himself which is made from buttermilk. It is silky, wobbly and surrounded by a rhubarb and bay leaf consommé. The rhubarb liquid is light and not as tart as I usually associate with rhubarb, which may serve to alleviate my poor feelings towards it.
And just when we thought we were absolutely full of food, a plate of complimentary petits fours appears when we request our bill. There are mini-quince and mascarpone tartlets coupled with biscotti. We are five happy little campers and, to top it off, Kiki announces that it is her treat! Our protests to split the bill and shout Dr King to a birthday meal fall on deaf ears so we can only resort to thanking her profusely instead.
47 Windsor St, Paddington NSW
Tel: (02) 9380 5996
Opening Hours: Mon-Sat 12:30pm-3pm (lunch)