Ormeggio at the Spit

d'Albora Marinas, Spit Rd, Mosman, NSW

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Ormeggio in Mosman, The Spit.
Modern Italian ... Ormeggio's chefs are making waves. Photo: Fiona Morris

Terry Durack

AH, THOSE WACKY ITALIANS. IN Milan, chef Carlo Cracco creates pasta from nothing more than dehydrated egg yolk, cut into strips. Davide Scabin of Turin's Combal Zero serves up liquid pizza. In Modena, Massimo Bottura of Osteria Francescana prepares Five Ages of Parmigiano, the cheese served five ways: as a wafer, souffle, froth, cream and vapour.

You'd think those adventurous enough to leave Italy for the other side of the world would be even more radical, yet local Italian chefs are as respectful of tradition as they are mindful of modernity. So it takes a brave man to rock the boat and throw away the anchor of Italian culinary convention in a town that knows its tiramisu backwards.

Enter Alessandro Pavoni, who, appropriately enough, is surrounded by plenty of rocking boats at Mosman's d'Albora Marina.

Spanish mackerel sandwich, escarole, black olives, chick pea puree at Ormeggio.
Go-to dish ... Spanish mackerel sandwich, escarole, black olives, chickpea puree. Photo: Steven Siewert

This tall, broad-shouldered chef has always charted his own course. When Ormeggio opened in 2009, it featured the rustic, hunter-gatherer cooking of Pavoni's home region of Lombardy, with just the odd ripple of modernist cuisine to be seen. Then came an injection of contemporary thinking with the appointment of head chef Federico Zanellato, former chef de partie at Rome's ground-breaking La Pergola restaurant. When he was followed by talented sous chef Victor Moya Higueras and pastry chef Laura Ballester, fresh from Spain's fast-rising, Michelin-starred Paco Morales, the ripples became almost surfable waves.

The first thing to hit the table is a crisp, bubbly tapioca wafer dabbed with little splodges of creamy cheese, resting fashionably on slate tile. It tastes, rather amazingly, of mushrooms on toast, the tapioca having been cooked first in mushroom stock, then slow-dried, and fried.

Next up is a contender for Sydney's prettiest dish; a spring brandade ($25) that subverts the traditional brandade of salt cod and pureed potato, by making it with smoked eel and plating it with a toss of baby peas, broad beans, asparagus tips, pickled spring onion and an anchovy crumble. The addition of a foamy mussel emulsion isn't one of those ''oh groan, a foam'' moments, as it brings a clever, briny, punchy depth to the prickly, smoky flavours.

More new waves are evident in smoked linguine with braised cuttlefish ($26). A rolled knitting ball of Gragnano pasta from Naples has been finished in a smoked-fish stock, and served with strips of tender squid bathed in squid ink, baby zucchini slices, and little crisp batons of lightly battered zucchini flowers. The smokiness lifts it beautifully.

The wine list is also drawn from contemporary Italy, with some impressive local Italian food-friendly drops as well, such as a soft and silky, undemanding 2009 Principia Foris Pinot Noir from the Mornington Peninsula ($64).

Not surprisingly, a single brick of crisp-skinned suckling pig teamed with baby heirloom carrots and shimmering beetroot puree ($39) is more complex than it looks. After three hours of roasting, the meat is shredded from the bones, mixed with cooking juices, then packed back onto the skin, pressed and crisped in the pan before serving; a clever way to maintain traditional flavour while controlling the quality of the end result.

Now here's a thing of beauty - a Spanish mackerel sandwich ($37) that's really a fused-together finger of that lovely fish sandwiched with a mix of endive and dried olive, topped and bottomed with potato puree and crisp golden layers of brik pastry. It sits on a brushstroke of black squid ink with a puddle of chickpea puree and scorched lettuce, sending a strong message of craft, precision and strong, balanced flavours.

Need I warn you not to expect tiramisu? Instead, Ballester conjures up a botanical vision of carrot cake that involves carrot mousse, fennel-seed gelato, mint, chervil, fennel tops, dill and violets ($18).

Fellow diners do birthdays and business in time-honoured fashion, almost in spite of the contemporary nature of the food. The waterside location is charming, the room is elegant, and staff members show an almost palpable pride in the dishes they bring to the table.

With the menu advising that patrons order four dishes rather than three, it does end up an expensive proposition, however, and by that, I don't mean ''for an Italian restaurant''.

In fact, Ormeggio is as much a contemporary restaurant as it is an Italian one - which, of course, is what's happening in Italy, too.


How we score 

Terry Durack is a reviewer for The Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide. This rating is based on the Good Food Guide scoring system.

The low-down

Worst bit The bill.

Best bit The craft inside, and the crafts outside.

Go-to dish Spanish mackerel sandwich, escarole, black olives, chickpea puree, $37.

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d'Albora Marinas, Spit Rd, Mosman, NSW

  • Cuisine - Italian
  • Prices - About $220 for two, plus drinks
  • Features - Licensed
  • Chef(s) - Alessandro Pavoni, Federico Zanellato, Victor Moya Higueras, Laura Ballester
  • Opening Hours - Lunch and dinner, Wed-Sun
  • Author - Terry Durack
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10 comments so far

  • Seems like a very generous score. I have been to Ormeggio multiple times but after my last visit and the very poor service I received, it is definitely not high on my list for a return visit. The food was great, but service I received was definitely not up to the standard of a 2 hat restaurant.

    Date and time
    December 04, 2012, 11:07AM
  • Yes a very generous score. I've had four visits to Ormeggio and lousy service every time. Great food but expensive and the service is bad enough to warrant a very hard look at the floor manager. It's a view shared by many of my friends who won't go their again.

    Date and time
    December 04, 2012, 1:57PM
  • I have been twice -once for dinner and once for lunch. For dinner it is very poor value. You are warned on the menu that at least 4 courses are recommended -this is not a joke. The serving sizes are microscopic but the prices are not-this is a very expensive dinner if you actually want to eat and not just take a photo of the pretty food. I had the mackerel sandwich which is very good but would it hurt to actually put more on the plate? The 'scampi risotto' entree is a smear on a plate with no scampi in sight...perhaps essence or foam of scampi is what they meant! Vegetables with the lamb I recall being a single baby carrot etc-just outrageous really. I avoid any restaurant now with 2 hats as they leave a very poor taste in the mouth which overshadows any enjoyment from the food.

    Date and time
    December 04, 2012, 5:24PM
  • I have been to Ormeggio at least 5 times since it opened. The servings are microscopic and the waiters' attitude poor.

    Date and time
    December 06, 2012, 2:38AM
  • I organised a lunch for 10 guests a couple of months ago. 2 members of my party were elderly ladies, one of 95. We arrived at the appointed time but were not seated at our table for well over an hour and had to ask for menu's. The first of our minuscule meals arrived over 2 hours after we had arrived at the restaurant. We had to constantly ask the floor staff to top up our drinks. Everyone departed feeling that we had not had value for money. The meal was expensive and the servings very small.and the service sadly wanting. Each of us commented that we would not be returning or recommending Ormeggio.

    Date and time
    December 07, 2012, 6:09PM
  • Fully disagree with these comments people have posted. Ormeggio is great value - they have a special on every day of the week if you are looking for a bargain and their quality and work involved is second to none..

    Date and time
    December 08, 2012, 10:06PM
  • Ormeggio is a great restaurant. My 8 visits over two years have varied from four to 12 dinners, always at lunch, both weekday and weekend and always I have had fabulous service from entusiastic professionals. The food is wonderful and surely it's the best Risotto in Sydney? The setting is devine and you really feel a part of the waterfront. The wine list is impressive and reasonable with the Sommelier providing excellent wine matches. Some may say the portions are small ... but if quantity over quality is your thing, maybe a different venue is appropriate. I find the portions perfect and the bill about right. My score, 15.5/20 - not two hats, but pretty close.

    Dulwich Hill
    Date and time
    December 11, 2012, 8:09AM
  • We booked a table for six last winter and rang in advance to say we had a vegetarian amongst the group to check they could cater for this and we're assured it would be fine. However they had no record of this when we arrived and the chef would not budge an inch from the published menu. The waiter was rude and condescending claiming ormeggio are "hunter gatherers" ergo meat is mandatory. This spoilt the evening for all and none will be rushing back.

    Dinner's Ready
    Date and time
    January 03, 2013, 12:45PM
  • These folks are selling location. But it's not that great.
    This is a trendy restaurant - and 'trendy' doesn't last because customers (like me) come once, get deterred by minuscule, appetiser size portions, and don't return.
    Using a tiny piece of fish, or scallops buried under a teensy salad, isn't 'food'. Putting it on a small plate, squirting coloured sauces to make it look fancy, isn't 'food'.
    My dinner was not a "fine dining experience" - I came in expecting to be fed with a adequate portions and a nice view. Yes, the view was ok, but I can get that by sitting on the beach. The food portions are simply absurd.
    I won't go back. Sorry!

    Date and time
    March 12, 2013, 11:53PM
  • How does he do it? Inventive food with professional yet relaxed service, unique wines - unexpectedly in the back of a boat dealership. Gets better every time.

    Date and time
    April 26, 2014, 10:19AM

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