Go-to dish ... Cappelletti ai porcini. Photo: Brianne Makin
Italy's Emilia-Romagna region has a lot of feathers in its culinary cap. Think balsamic vinegar, parmigiano reggiano and Parma prosciutto, to name a few.
Osteria Riva specialises in the food of this region in northern Italy, with excellent credentials. Chef and co-owner Andrea Riva comes from the area, as do his fellow proprietors, Giancarlo Bazzocchi and Ketty Laffi, the team behind popular Balmain pizzeria Rosso Pomodoro.
This small, bustling restaurant dishes up plate after plate of freshly made pasta to tables of Italian- and English-speakers alike. In keeping with the osteria style - traditionally a place for a glass of local wine and cheap bite to eat - there is a good selection of Italian wines and some Australian drops. And food is no afterthought at this casual, welcoming place.
Food from the Emilia-Romagna region ... Bondi Junction's Osteria Riva. Photo: Brianne Makin
Riva takes inspiration from his home town of Cesena and the restaurant his grandfather ran there when he was a child, in the traditional dishes on his menu (swapping pig fat for olive oil, he says) and in the decor. A large black-and-white print of the town's Piazza del Popolo dominates one wall, and the rest are the bright orangey-yellow from the old osterias of his home. It's a lot of visual stimulation for a small space, verging on distracting.
Arriving for a 6.30pm sitting (the only reservation we could score on a busy Saturday night), we spot one table with children, but mostly it's couples and groups of four. The noise levels get lively as the night goes on, but not to the point where you can't hold a friendly conversation.
Some diners take up the BYO wine option. Others go for the quartino, a 250-millilitre jug of wine. It's a good option to go with quick meal when a bottle is too much, or for trying out a few different drops.
Showcasing regional products ... the antipasto della casa. Photo: Brianne Makin
The restaurant does a roaring trade in fritto misto tricolore from the antipasti list. Served on a plate, a brown paper cone spills out lightly fried calamari, prawns and ribbons of zucchini, coated in a mix of flour and semolina. It's a good dish to share.
The specials board is part of the decor, prominent on one of the yellow walls. It would be easy to order our whole meal from the dishes listed in chalk. The melt-in-the-mouth beef carpaccio, lightly dressed in seasoned olive oil and topped with rocket and parmesan, is a perfect example of a deft hand making the most of quality ingredients.
Another special is the generous serving of tagliatelle al timo con ragu di coniglio. The sauce of rabbit, tomato, olives and thyme is light, allowing the meat and fresh pasta to star.
From the regular menu, cappelletti ai porcini is one of the chef's specialties. Little hat-shaped pillows of pasta are stuffed with ricotta cheese, parmesan and nutmeg. A subtle sauce of porcini mushrooms is the finishing touch. It's delicious.
The only miss of the night is the patate arrosta - the diced roast potatoes are too salty to attempt more than a few pieces.
After filling up on the antipasti and pasta courses, we don't make it to secondi (though we do sneak in a boozy tiramisu for dessert). We're not the only ones. Most diners seem to choose between pasta or grilled meats and fish for their main course.
Osteria Riva has been embraced by a crew of regulars, drawn to the combination of excellent service, reasonable prices and simple, tasty dishes made with care. And with tempting options added to the specials board daily, there's always an excuse to come back.
Fresh, house-made pasta and other regional dishes.
Good. Antipasti $5 to $21, paste $20 to $25, secondi $24 to $26, dolci $7 to $11.
Fritto misto tricolore, cappelletti ai porcini, beef carpaccio, rabbit tagliatelle.
Four stars (out of five)
- 02 9369 4071
- Cuisine - Italian
- Prices - Antipasti $5 to $21, paste $20 to $25, secondi $24 to $26, dolci $7 to $11.
- Features - Accepts bookings, Licensed, Family friendly, BYO
- Chef(s) - Andrea Riva
- Owners - Andrea Riva, Giancarlo Bazzocchi , Ketty Laffi
- Opening Hours - Dinner only, daily 6pm until late (kitchen closes 10.30pm).
- Author - Sarah McInerney