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If you cast even a cursory glance over my antecedents you would wonder how this culinary primitive ever got to evolve into the Hungry Hinch.
As a teenaged (pretending to be 21) journalist across the ditch in New Zealie, the only restaurant experience I had was after the ‘six o’clock swill’ when, with a belly full of flat beer, we staggered into the local fish shop for the standard dish of ‘ shteakeggshnchips’.
By the time I got from the Taranaki Herald in New Plymouth to the Christchurch Star my dining horizons had broadened. In the big smoke, on a Sunday night we’d go to the local Chinese before going to the ‘fleas and itches’ (the pictures).
Even though it was a Chinese restaurant, the most popular dish on the menu was Indonesian: nasi goreng. From memory, it had an inordinate amount of peas in it with egg, fried rice and a couple of small prawns.
And then I got to Sydney, still a teenager (pretending to be 24) and got a job as a Police Roundsman on the Sydney Sun. It was there I discovered the ‘Italos’ – the Italian Club on Broadway across from Central Station.
It was a journo’s paradise. For a few shillings you got a basket of often-stale bread, a huge plate of spaghetti bolognaise and a carafe of ‘rough red’ table wine. We called it claret – God knows what it really was.
My love affair with Italian restaurants was on. Even dined at Umbetto’s Clam House in New York’s Little Italy a couple of weeks after Crazy Joe got it on the half shell, so to speak, when the Mafia punk was executed at his daughter’s birthday party.
In Melbourne it was Stefani’s, Marcellino’s, The Latin, Romeo’s and
Catta’s – a place where Bob Rogers and I used to play cards in the
backroom every Tuesday afternoon served by a bumbling waiter I nicknamed
El Fuquito even though he was Italian. (Couldn’t get what I originally called him to air).
In Sydney we stuck to Mario’s, Beppi’s and Darcy’s. We
kept, and keep, going back to Beppi’s for two reasons. Me, because it
was always one placed where I could get genuine New Zealand whitebait
and not mini-sardines passed off as the Kiwi delicacy.
Bob dined there the night his second daughter Brett was born. Beppi
gave him some dessert to take to new mother Jerry in the hospital. Brett
is now over 50.
All of this is an exceedingly indulgent and long-winded way of
introducing a new Italian discovery: Cipri, tucked away in Paddington.
As Jack Nicholson would say: This is as good as it gets.
I’m not good at Italian so I’ll just say: ‘ Maialino con cavolo ross, mostardo di Cremona e pistacchio’.
That’s Italian for one of the best dishes I’ve eaten in a long time
and I’m not even much of a meat eater. Never eat beef (except for
Japanese Shabu Shabu) and rarely eat pork. Even free range.
This was ever-so-slow roasted suckling pig from the Hawkesbury served with red cabbage salad, mustard fruits and pistachio nuts.
That followed the best, plump figs wrapped in prosciutto and served
with a gorgonzola sauce. And they were followed by oven grilled monster
prawns and WA scampi. How long has this been going on?
I was introduced to Cipri by my new Bestie, better known as EP of Sunday Night – the Cadell Evans of the Seven Network – Mark Llewellyn.
On my first of several visits to Cipri, I’d just
stepped off a 14-hour flight from LA ( during which I spent most of the
time fighting a stomach bug in the loo) but still managed a plate of zucchini flowers stuffed with prawns and ricotta on a puree of capsicum and some made-there bread.
Three Cipri brothers run the restaurant. Joe and
Anthony with Carmelo in the kitchen. Maria, their mum, also sometimes
drops in to lend a hand.
Don’t be fooled by the old sepia photos of a traditional wedding and christening adorning this article. This is real Italian cooking but tradition has bent to make way for some stunning Oz-Italian dishes.
I promise you: It’s a far cry from the Italos.