I was recently asked: if I had to choose one death row meal served in a restaurant in Adelaide, what would it be? A dish. No substitutions.
After some serious thinking and a lot of inner turmoil, I finally found an answer: Nido’s ricotta with black pepper, honey and gnocco fritto. It’s the simplest of dishes but it’s pure magic. You start with gnocco fritto (it’s Italian for delicious, fried, chewy bread) which you tear apart and dip into a pool of whipped ricotta and honey. It’s sweet, savory and salty, with a decent kick of freshly cracked black pepper. And you can use your hands. Why use cutlery for your last meal, anyway?
It’s no surprise that this carby delight hails from Italy’s Emilia-Romagna, a region best known for its Parmigiano Reggiano, Prosciutto di Parma and Bologna mortadella. I would also demand these three delicacies as a side dish, if this was in fact my last meal on earth.
Having eaten this Nido dish countless times since local culinary celebrities Laura Sharrad (of Chef fame) and her husband Chef Max took over The Pot venue in Hyde Park, I was happy to see it land on the snack menu of their second venue when it opened last year.
And here we are in the (unrecognizable) former space of Rigoni’s restaurant on Leigh Street, now badged Fugazzi, sitting at the best table in the house (we’re told) to find out what else they’ve cooked up, aside the ricotta.
The Italian influence is everywhere, from the marble-covered bars and tables to the central banquette, covered in velvet to mimic the shape of a Bottega service and, of course, it is found throughout the menu Fugazzi, unapologetically, but for a few ingredients borrowed from other cuisines.
Yuzu is one of the aliens, a trendy Asian addition that seems to be popping up everywhere, especially in Western dishes. Here it is combined with a white balsamic in a reseda washed down with four Pacific oysters. These look like they were chipped a while ago, but that’s forgiven when the sweet, tangy, slightly bitter sauce hits my lips (I only eat yuzu oysters now, thank you.)
Clever plating comes into play with a beautifully presented salmon crudo, perhaps representing a miniature school of these Atlantic giants, swimming in formation across the dish. A herbaceous oil defies the emulsion as it builds up on a buttermilk base under the twisted fish strips. Finely diced and marinated zucchini has a buttery flavor with a delicate crunch that adds only a slight texture to every bite. Sprigs of fresh dill providing their herbal, tangy flavor and lightly toasted sesame seeds provide a hint of umami and smoke – but it’s the combined flavors of all the ingredients that really set this crudo apart from many others before. him.
The inspiration for the next bite comes from a strange place: the cupboard just above the toaster. Listed as “Roman Vegemite”, these are buttered toast soldiers topped with anchovies and tiny lemon wedges. The connection is made when you bite into them – that familiar taste of salt, malt and yeast is close enough to the original that you forget you’re eating fish.
Traditionally prepared as a finger cutlet, lamb “scottadito” is served as layered back skewers instead. Cooked to a lovely char on the outside while still pink and juicy in the center, these are small powerhouses, packed with so much flavor and a healthy dose of spice thanks to a chilli infused sauce poured over the top. . We would have liked to order more. But with pasta coming next and TV’s pasta queen in the house – although she leads the service teams of Fugazzi and Nido these days – there’s no time to wait.
The duck and bologna were minced and stuffed into a crescent-shaped pasta, made by someone who knows their dough inside out (or perhaps was educated by Sharrad herself). The sturdy pillows are al dente with a perfectly silky exterior, and the filling is soft and flavorful. But it’s the sticky, gooey duck and black vinegar sauce that’s the real hero here: outrageously.
Finally, Fugazzi’s spatchcock might seem like a pretty typical roast baby chicken, but we’re digging deeper to find out a whole lot more. I don’t remember ever calling a dish of dissected poultry elegant, but here we are. Crispy-skinned segments of succulent bird glisten in their own juices under scattered curry leaves, fried until light and crispy. Further down lies a sweet corn mash that is more like a sauce: it has a tangy flavor backed by the lightest hint of curry and a definite sweet-salty balance. This is another seemingly simple dish, imaginatively presented with a lovely combination of flavors that will be hard to forget.
It is a creative and innovative cuisine while remaining authentic with typical Italian ingredients and dishes. After today, I’ll be adding a serving of this sweet corn sauce to my last supper, poured directly over gnocco fritto.
27 Leigh Street Adelaide
(08) 7089 0350
Open daily from 11:30 a.m. to late
(closed Monday lunchtime only)
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This article is supported by the Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism and Ideas.