When the weather finally warms, you can barely get summer off Sydney's mind. Even a whiff of sun will set us dreaming of spritzers at one of our favourite perches by the water. Before we get too carried away, however, the occasional cloudburst descends to remind us we're still some months away from summer. So, while the elements make up their mind, we may as well use these temperamental spring days to indulge in cross-seasonal fare.
A four-month-old venture in Surry Hills, Parma Cucina is a purveyor of such cooking. Stocked with wintry pastas and meats as well as summery salads and seafood, the menu straddles the seasons in the way the Italians do so well.
Its namesake, an Etruscan town in northern Italy, is home to such sought-after produce as parmigiano reggiano cheese and prosciutto di Parma. Its Italian-born head chef, Alessandro Vinci-Cannava, has an equally impressive pedigree. After growing up in South America, he trained in Italy and cooked his way across Sicily, Germany and, finally, Sydney in between setting up his own restaurant in Peru.
Looks-wise, the venue is far from the cosy trattoria you'll find hidden off many a European cobblestone street. Instead, it occupies a prominent glass-encased corner looking on to Crown Street.
The space is light and open in a slightly industrial way, with white, black, brick and timber surfaces arranged around an elegant bar and bold mural. On one wall chopping boards are artfully arranged to clever effect.
After a shaky beginning, the team finds us a table near the bar and settles into a routine.
Even from the starters, it's evident Vinci-Cannava is not afraid to forgo the strictly traditional. Hidden beneath enoki and rocket doused in balsamic glaze, our porcini, champignon and shimeji bruschetta is unrecognisable from its conventional cousins at first glance. But cries of ''What's that?'' are followed with approving nods after the first bite.
In anticipation of heavier mains, we order prosciutto with salad leaves, delicate white anchovies, crisp grilled asparagus, poached egg and balsamic dressing. The dish is more refined than a caesar salad but has the same tang and crunch with extra salty hints.
The pasta list is loaded with home-made and hand-cut creations so tempting we have trouble deciding what to order.
Eventually we settle on the spaghetti with mud crab and saffron sugo. Served with heirloom tomatoes and peas, the rich crab and saffron flavours work wonderfully with the soft noodle-like threads but the dish could lose needless embellishments such as beetroot crisps and baby herbs. They're more a distraction than decoration.
Next, the slow-roasted duck and porcini lasagne is incredibly rich and filling, with no trace of dryness to the meat. The serving is generous - verging on too much so - but tastes so moreish I fail to leave a scrap.
And while the lamb ''shanks'' include only one portion, any more would only go to waste on my companion, who is more than satisfied with the ample soft meat in pan juices atop roasted carrots and pleasantly grainy polenta.
For dessert, we share one treat between three: a torta caprese, or flourless chocolate cake, which is studded with crushed toasted almonds alongside whipped cream and strawberries. It tastes lighter than it looks - or at least that's what we tell ourselves before gorging the lot. Come summer, there'll be no such excuse.
Generous crowd-pleasing Italian fare.
Fair. Starters, $4-$22; mains, $18-$30; dessert, $14.
Duck lasagne; mud crab spaghetti; lamb shanks with soft polenta.
285A Crown Street,
Surry Hills, 9332 4974
Tue-Thu, lunch, noon-3.30pm, dinner, 5.30-10pm;
Fri-Sat, lunch, noon-3.30pm, dinner, 5.30-11pm;
- 9332 4974
- Cuisine - Italian
- Prices - Starters, $4-$22, Mains, $18-$30, Dessert, $14
- Opening Hours - Tue-Thu, lunch, noon-3.30pm, dinner, 5.30-10pm, Fri-Sat, lunch, noon-3.30pm, dinner, 5.30-11pm, Sun, noon-9pm