628 Crown Street Surry Hills, New South Wales 2010
Goodbye cosy winter dinners, and benvenuto lazy late-afternoon lunches. It's in this mood, on the first truly warm day of spring that we arrive at Franco Franco, the new Surry Hills restaurant that has replaced Caffe Sicilia.
Franco describes itself as an osteria - casual Italian dining, less formal than a trattoria - as well as a pizzeria. The new owners, who are also behind the Meat & Wine Co steak restaurant chain, haven't changed the restaurant's looks much, apart from some costly imports. At one end is a traditional Neapolitan dome-shaped wood-fired pizza oven, tended to by cooks also brought from Naples. Another cook stands behind a counter quietly rolling pasta, which is draped to dry behind him in long golden strands. Cured Italian smallgoods are displayed in a glass cabinet, and copper saucepans hang from the ceiling. It's expensively, casually Italian.
We sit outside in the warmth, despite the views over less-than-picturesque southern Crown Street. The tables are covered with brown paper and set with tin jugs of olive oil and jars of pink Murray River salt, and a complimentary basket of grissini and bread studded with olives and pancetta is set down by an Italian-accented waiter, who, like the rest of the staff, is relaxed yet well-informed.
The menu is structured traditionally: salumeria-formaggeria (cured meat and cheese) to start plus antipasti and pizza, followed by pasta as a first course and meat-based mains.
The salumeria-formaggeria list includes prosciutto di Parma and the more expensive San Daniele, sweet or hot salami, and bresaola, each sold in 50-gram portions. We order guanciale, unsmoked Italian bacon made from pig's cheek. The formaggeria list has only five cheeses, including buffalo mozzarella and gorgonzola dolce, each also sold in 50-gram servings. Our pick is the Venetian sottocenere al tartufo, a pale cheese covered by a layer of fine, softly spiced silvery ash with a slight scent of truffles.
The wine list is entirely Italian with half a dozen each of red and white by the glass, and reasonably priced choices by the bottle listed by region. The short cocktail list has Aperol and Campari, and we settle in with spritzes and Negronis.
Fresh Western Australian sardines are grilled and served with lemon juice, olive oil, garlic, and herbs. Pork and veal ragu comes in a gleaming copper pan, heaped over wide ribbons of pasta tossed with fresh, sweet basil and parmigiano.
Pizzas are made in the traditional Neapolitan style: the margherita arrives in just a few minutes with a chewy, blackened base with a high crust and a soupy cheese and tomato centre. A plate of slow-cooked oxtail and beef cheek in lard and white wine is deeply flavoured and tender, though perhaps a little heavy for the season (in fairness, winter has only just ended).
To finish, a delicate limoncello sponge with lemon custard and chantilly cream allows us to linger over our Italian afternoon.
Salumeria-formaggeria list, pizza, pork and veal ragu.
Three and a half stars (out of four)