Margherita pizza from the Briscola Pizzeria and Stuzzichini Bar.
Margherita pizza from the Briscola Pizzeria and Stuzzichini Bar. Photo: Jeffrey Chan

60 Alinga Street Canberra, Australian Capital Territory 2601

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Opening hours Tuesday-Friday 12pm-2.30pm; Tuesday to Saturday 5.30pm-late
Features Wheelchair access, BYO
Prices Moderate (mains $20-$40)
Chef Alonso Chiok
Seats 65 inside, 22 outside
Payments eftpos, Cash, AMEX, Visa, Diner's Club
Phone 02 6248 5444

Good pizza and pasta have not always been widely available in Canberra, but thank heavens things have started to change.

The high-end Italian and Sons has seriously raised the bar with its spectacular blistering wood fire turning out truly great pizza, and much else besides, and down the road the tiny Gusto Pizza reminds us that takeaway pizza can indeed be a thing of great beauty.

As standards have lifted, places have taken pride in good pizza dough, quality toppings (forget megameat), handmade pasta and something more than bolognese.

Old favourite:  Arancini, with porcini and mushroom.
Old favourite: Arancini, with porcini and mushroom. Photo: Jeffrey Chan

Briscola is one of these, opening originally as La Posada in 1998. They use imported Italian flour, twice risen, and other locally sourced ingredients, including Lonsdale Street Roasters Coffee and wines from Lerida Estate and Pankhurst.

Briscola is a traditional Italian card game, played with beautifully decorated cards, for two to six players. The renaming seems based on a desire to point out that Italian food should be shared, like a game of cards.

Twice a month they run ''La Tavola'' nights, with $25 getting you a shared set meal ''with the family''. The first one apparently went well.

Warm Ligurian olives ($7), glossy with quality olive oil and almonds, make a nice earthy start to the meal. The central element here is the quality of the produce; good olives have a rounded, fundamental taste that is a million miles from the briny sharpness of a nasty tinned specimen, and having them warm accentuates that.

Get some bread to mop up the lovely oil, and be ready for a generous serving.

Arancini balls ($4.50 each) have become a trendy pub staple in recent years, and few resemble the magnificent singular original, which wraps leftover

risotto around a gorgeous spurt of melted mozzarella or meat sauce - all crisped to perfection on the outside.

Briscola's version is crispy, but a little lacking in texture and flavour inside. A roasted capsicum dipping ''salsina'' is fridge-cold, making it less attractive.

The house special of large ravioli stuffed with pumpkin and ricotta, doused with sage burnt butter sauce and smashed amaretti biscotti, is a generous serve of tender homemade pasta, amply stuffed and a little sweet with the almond biscotti. There was nothing wrong with this dish, but it did not hit the heights that this subtle and spectacular combination of flavours can, with the hot nutty butter, just browned and heady with sage, almost sizzling on the sweet and tender raviolo.

Bethany Shiraz Cabernet from the Barossa dealt well with the big flavours on offer from the concise menu, filled with Italian and local wines.

On a big night we will return to start with a "Berlusconi's mistress'' (Amaretto, Grenadine, soda and lemon), or a classic Campari and orange. The pizza is decently made and not drowned in toppings (in the proper Italian style), with a good light dough at centre-stage.

White (no tomato) pizza "Stella" (small, $13.50) is slices of potato, oil and rosemary. The potato slices could have been a little thinner and crisper, to really pull off what should be a spectacular, singular pizza, but it was good nonetheless. A classic four-cheese pizza is topped with a smear of tomato, mozzarella, gorgonzola, provolone dolce and shavings of parmesan, and had a simple charm.

A large salad of rocket was dotted with caramelised walnuts, and a possibly too scant application of good dressing. Good locally churned Gelato Mio gelati made a clean and pleasant finish to a decent meal.

Briscola is a pleasant place to eat, with a relaxed atmosphere, relatively good value for money, and pleasant if not spectacular food.