14/20

Cipro Pizza al Taglio

21 Fountain Street, Alexandria, NSW

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Cipro Pizza a Taglio in Alexandria.
Great food without the fuss: Cipro Pizza al Taglio in Alexandria. Photo: Edwina Pickles

Terry Durack

Hub. It's the buzzword of the moment. Hubs are collaborative gatherings of like-minded people - what we used to call co-ops - and they're everywhere. They're the new business models for all sorts of new businesses, requiring all sorts of new business titles for, er, hubbists, from facilitators to team enablers to engagement specialists to connections catalysts (seriously).

There is such a hub at 21 Fountain Street, with Don Campos at one end showcasing specialty coffee-brewing techniques, the hippie-happy organic Bread & Circus cafe in the middle, a soon-to-open sourdough bakery and now, Cipro.

Cipro is a hub within a hub, a collaboration of long-time kitchen colleagues Khan Danis, Catherine Adams and Angel Fernandez. Between them, this talented trio covers hatty restaurants including Catalina, Flying Fish, Rockpool and Spice Temple, and until recently was busy plating up $115 wagyu rib eyes and $25 Black Forest trifles at Rockpool Bar & Grill. Now they huddle together in the pointy end of a warehouse in Alexandria turning out $6 pizza slices. If you graphed their career trajectories, would this be a sharp downturn, heading for the gates of hell with nowhere to go but an industrial canteen as the next step before oblivion? I think not.

Sausage and peperonata pizza $9.
Go-to dish: Sausage and peperonata pizza $9. Photo: Edwina Pickles

Danis says the moment that led to the group's drastic life change came when they visited Rome's Pizzarium, run by Gabriele Bonci - dubbed the Michelangelo of pizza by Vogue Italia. Seeing the elemental nature of pizza al taglio (by the slice) raised by quality ingredients gave them the confidence to go out on their own and to keep things simple.

Like Pizzarium, Cipro is more functional than pretty, with its central open-plan kitchen, concrete factory floor, low-line tables, high benches lined with tall black stools, and a less-than-picturesque view of a shambolic building site next door.

A stand-and-order counter overseen by co-owner Penelope Watson, formerly of Rockpool on George, is stocked with slabs of artfully assembled pizze. Toppings are gastronomic and seasonal, so instead of capricciosa and Hawaiian, there's zucchini with mint and ricotta, chargrilled peppers, tuna and olives, and my new fave, sausage and peperonata - clumps of chorizo and 'ndjuja plopped on a squish of tomato and roasted red peppers ($9 a slab). The base is solid enough to get your teeth into, with real flavour of its own.

There's more than pizza, though not a lot more. A short menu lists snacky and shareable dishes from a generous salumi plate of prosciutto, bresaola and salami from Pino's Dolce Vita and Feather and Bone, to baked ricotta with ''Angel's mum's chilli salsa''.

A big bowl of chunky, tomatoey minestrone soup ($16) crammed with vegies, elbow maccheroni and borlotti beans, topped with glossy pesto and shreddy parmigiano, is warming and motherly. Arancini, those ubiquitous fried rice balls ($2 each), are filled with either peas and provolone, or pork ragu and stringy, gooey mozzarella. Crisp crunch. Soft squish. Gone.

A daily special of wood-fired grilled baby octopus with eggplant puree and lemon salsa ($16) is pleasing enough but might be better with larger, fleshier octopus. Better is a comfort-food chicken and salami cacciatore ($22), and a fresh, simple salad of iceberg lettuce, soft-boiled egg and anchovies ($9).

I don't want to set up any dessert wars but, for my money, Adams is the finest dessert chef to come from Neil Perry's richly endowed Rockpool group. Her dessert work is subtle, balanced - more experiential, as the hubbists would say. Here it gets showcased in a scoop of crunchy meringue passionfruit pavlova gelato ($3.50), and a startlingly soft, dark, flourless chocolate cake ($6) that is more like a cloud of chocolate air captured in cake form.

There are downsides to this neo-canteen style of eating - the scrabble for seats, the uneven waits for food, the queueing and re-queuing. Drinks options are appropriately simple, with just one beer, one white, two reds, and a sparkling, backed up by serious coffee from local roaster Hazel de Los Reyes of Coffee Alchemy. A good, honest 2011 Di Lenardo Pinot Grigio from Friuli ($8.50/$34) has a clean finish and fruit-bowl bouquet.

What started as an economic side effect is turning into a movement, as highly qualified chefs move further down the food chain to cook the sort of hands-on, artisanal food they like to eat. Witness Kitchen by Mike, Kepos Street Kitchen, Three Blue Ducks Cafe and more, many more, to come. Hubba hubba.

The low-down

Best bit Great food without the fuss.
Worst bit The go-slow queue at lunchtime.
Go-to dish Sausage and peperonata pizza, $9.

Terry Durack is chief restaurant critic for The Sydney Morning Herald and senior reviewer for the Good Food Guide. This rating is based on the Good Food Guide scoring system.

 

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21 Fountain Street, Alexandria, NSW

  • Cuisine - Italian
  • Prices - About $60 for two, plus drinks
  • Features - BYO, Licensed, Cheap and cheerful, Vegetarian friendly
  • Chef(s) - Khan Danis, Catherine Adams, Angel Fernandez
  • Owners - Penelope Watson
  • Opening Hours - Tues-Sun, 11am-8pm
  • Author - Terry Durack
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15 comments so far

  • Excellent to see good cooks doing affordable food! We want more!

    Commenter
    Evan
    Location
    Sydney
    Date and time
    April 30, 2013, 2:23PM
  • nooooo! Our neighbourhood secret gem is out! This pizza is so damn good :)

    Commenter
    Larnoz
    Location
    Date and time
    April 30, 2013, 3:00PM
  • Went on the weekend after seeing it in a magazine. Left feeling very disappointed...no atmosphere at all, the waitstaff where rude and just dumped the food on the table without any conversation at all, food was average, nothing to write home about. The only positive was the really nice lady behind the counter when ordering. Don't think we will be returning in a hurry.

    Commenter
    B of Sydney
    Location
    Date and time
    May 01, 2013, 11:41AM
  • B of Sydney: Rude because they didn't engage in conversation? Do you expect your wait staff in a cafe to stop and chat when they drop your coffee down when there are people queuing at the door? Seriously. For $6 you get pizza. You want conversation, go to Rockpool!

    Commenter
    Funky stuff
    Location
    Erko
    Date and time
    May 01, 2013, 4:50PM
  • Went there for lunch yesterday. It was so delicious. Everything we tried was a flavour sensation. Particularly loved the octopus salad. Well done guys.

    Commenter
    Caro
    Location
    Glebe
    Date and time
    May 03, 2013, 12:53PM
  • Went there last night - never again. I asked what was a filling dish as I was hungry and was told the most filling thing on the menu was the meat balls. What a joke! $6 for one sliver of pizza which they cut in two to make it appear bigger and $18 for 2 fifty cent size, barely warm meat balls - both combined less than a standard entrée size - what a bloody rip-off.

    The cost for dinner if you were to eat a regular size meal with a bottle of wine would exceed $100 a head - for pizza! It is no wonder they get customers to pay up front it avoids the embarrassment of having people complain after they see the tiny portions.

    We both left disgusted and headed to another place in Newtown for an actual meal. My advice to anyone planning to eat there is to catch a cab to Leichhardt eat at one of the many decent pizza places on Norton St and save money - and when I say save money - I'm including the cost of the return cab fare.

    Easily the biggest rip-off I've witnessed eating out during 32 years in Sydney.

    Commenter
    Mike L
    Location
    Sydney
    Date and time
    May 03, 2013, 1:11PM
  • $6 for a slice of pizza. Sheer wankery.

    Commenter
    Ah McCain
    Location
    Date and time
    May 03, 2013, 1:34PM
    • $6 was the LEAST expensive slice, many were $9 a slice or $90 a pizza - sheer customer contemptuous wankery.

      Commenter
      Mike L
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      May 03, 2013, 4:40PM
  • The pizza's are pretty good although the crusts on some require a steak knife; but really interesting toppings. The downsides are the place lacks atmosphere and the single strip of fluro lighting along one side means those sitting under it have the appealing colour of lard while it is very gloomy on the other side. It is a welcome addition to the neighbourhood but I wonder if the owners/chefs weren't such big names whether anyone would be paying this much attention? Was Terry's head turned by reputation? I note he did not go at night.

    Commenter
    Grant
    Location
    Alexandria
    Date and time
    May 03, 2013, 1:51PM
  • Since when is $6 for a SLICE of pizza cheap? Ironically if you bought a whole pizza it would be about $50 and you'd probably be in-line with Rockpool. It may be a very nice cafe but $6 per slice of pizza is by no means ridiculously cheap which this article implies.

    Commenter
    Jimmy D
    Location
    Sydney
    Date and time
    May 03, 2013, 1:58PM

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