The less-than-obvious street frontage of Italian and Sons. Photo: Katherine Griffiths
It's 6pm and we're in a queue outside the less-than-obvious street frontage of Italian and Sons, Canberra's coolest Italian eatery. It's not that you need to queue to get a seat here - rather, you need to book, and do so well in advance, when you'll be encouraged into an early or late seating, not something that thrills everyone, and you'll be reminded with a call as well just to ensure you are going to keep your booking. But we're queuing like a collection of people on the footpath tonight because the doors are closed till precisely the appointed time. It feels a bit like the queue for coffee at 7am on a Saturday just up the road at the Roasters, so desperate we're early. The door opens on cue and the first sitting of the night is seated at the bare wood, simply set tables in this small, split-level space.
Italian and Sons is firmly in the current style of casual-sophisticated dining. There are no fineries in the set-up, but there's plenty of cache in the menu, the service, the wine list and the swish clientele. An open kitchen where they toss (excellent) pizzas, cured meats hanging over a long bar, a scrawled on blackboard at the back, all of it democratic and welcoming in feel. This sort of thing is simply the way eating is done in the big cities, but is oddly relatively recent in Canberra. Italian and Sons led the way; others now are on the bandwagon but with this looser style, offering a relatively few dishes and focusing on the produce.
The food matches the set-up. It's fresh, simple, exciting and true to the country Italian theme.
Italian and Sons in Braddon, casual Italian cool. Photo: Katherine Griffiths
Cannellini beans with calamari ($18) makes the point. It's a stew of minimal fuss, delicate and country themed. The beans are in a light tomato sauce with fresh fennel fronds, allowing the delicate, lightly cooked calamari to do its thing.
The cured meats (two for $18, three for $25) are a more muscled-up start, full of flavour and that great sense of darkness that hangs around these crazy meats. The capocollo, from the shoulder of a pig, has loads of heat and pungency. The n'duja is a spreadable salami from Calabria (Italian and Sons' cured meat comes from a Sydney maker), which makes it scarier as a concept than pate. It's fantastic here, red and hot with chilli. Whether you're the kind of person who embraces or avoids cured meats, this is the place to let loose.
The menu is not arranged as entrees and mains (a small thank-you prayer), but mixes things up in a more approachable way - a few pastas, pizzas, vegetable sides and snacks, plus a ''piatti del giorno''. Today, being Thursday, the dish of the day is chianti-braised wagyu beef cheeks on cauliflower puree ($33). The meat is astonishing, so gelatinous and dense, with all that you love about this cut, grungy and dark with a shiny coating of the darkest reduced sauce. The meat just pulls apart when your fork touches it, and you finish this dish happy to the core.
Warm panettone, date and almond budino with amaretto zabaglione. Photo: Katherine Griffiths
Likewise, a dish of chestnut pasta with wild boar ragu ($32) is rich (we're eating before the sudden spring warmth of September), gentle on the tomato background, and overwhelmingly meaty, with tubes of folded fresh pasta, making for a pretty intense and filling dish.
Ordering too much, as you do, we have a bowl of parmesan polenta topped with crisp sage leaves ($8). This is pudding-style polenta and is a bit heavy and also a little greasy, a dish we could have done without. But the peperonata - pan-fried peppers and potatoes ($9) is great, rustic and charry with a sweetness from peppers. This charry edge presumably comes from the wood-fired oven that also produces the most excellent pizzas, although such is the quite refined feel of this place that it never feels quite right to order pizza, unless you're seated at the bar.
Service is warm and moves at a good pace, which is probably what you'd expect given they have another sitting arriving at 8pm. The pretty-much-all-Italian wine list is also very welcome, with loads of exploration to be done by the glass, as well as wines offered by the 500 ml carafe. We're entirely taken by the 2009 Valpolicella ripasso superiore ($14 a glass, $42 a bottle) on offer tonight. It's complex, aromatic and a new favourite (and we're so wrapped up in it that I neglect to note the maker).
Joe Trimboli, part owner of Italian and Sons. Photo: Katherine Griffiths
Italian and Sons' tiramisu ($13) is the kind that stand up, full of sponge and covered in the richest creamy sauce you could imagine, a challenge at this end of the meal, but a worthy one. The warm panettone ($14) comes in its own little cast-iron fry pan, like a bread and butter pudding, with almond slices, and a separate sauce of strong creamy marzipan. It's crunchy, warm and gently spicy.
We're utterly happy with tonight's meal and leave affirmed in our championing of this place, and reminding each other that if there's one place to recommend, this would be it. Quite simply, this is one of the best, if not the best place to dine in Canberra. Italian and Sons is entirely at home in its theme, rarely putting a step wrong in its dedication to the best of modern-edged gorgeous Italian food, simply presented and with a light hand and a produce-driven sensibility.
- Cuisine - Italian
- Features - Vegetarian friendly, Accepts bookings, Licensed
- Chef(s) - Pasquale Trimboli and Carolyn Miller
- Owners - Trimboli group
- Cards accepted - Mastercard, AMEX, Visa, EFTPOS
- Opening Hours - Lunch Tuesday to Friday noon-2pm, dinner Monday to Saturday from 6pm
- Seats - 50, all inside
- Author - Kirsten Lawson