Federico Zanellato, chef at LuMi Bar & Dining in Pyrmont.
Federico Zanellato, chef at LuMi Bar & Dining in Pyrmont. Photo: Fiona Morris

If Sydney was a region of Italy, the local cuisine might look like the dishes coming out of Federico Zanellato's kitchen. 

His restaurant, LuMi Bar & Dining in Pyrmont, twists Italian food by matching the classic rich flavours with Asian techniques and local ingredients.

Steering the ship: New Sydney Morning Herald Good Food editor and Italian food lover Myffy Rigby eating out at LuMi Bar & Dining.
Steering the ship: New Sydney Morning Herald Good Food editor and Italian food lover Myffy Rigby eating out at LuMi Bar & Dining. Photo: Fiona Morris

A chawanmushi, for example, is a typical Japanese egg custard. But, on the LuMi menu, the dashi stock is replaced with a Parmesan consomme.

"If you spoke to some diners or chefs in Italy and told them to mix white soy sauce with pasta, they would say 'no way, you can't do that'," the Italian-born Zanellato said. "Italian cuisine is really strict on some rules but that makes no sense to me. If it tastes good, why can't you do it?"

It's an attitude shared by a growing number of young Sydney chefs bringing a uniquely Australian flair to traditional Italian food.

"If it tastes good, why can't you do it?": Federico Zanellato.
"If it tastes good, why can't you do it?": Federico Zanellato. Photo: Fiona Morris

The emerging trend is what Myffy Rigby, the new editor of Fairfax Media's Good Food Guides, says she is most excited about this summer.

"It's a new wave of young chefs who are approaching Italian food with Australian sensibilities," she said. "And who doesn't love Italian food?"

Her first taste of the progressive Italian was at 10 William Street in Paddington, which is working Japanese influences into its small plate menu.

"They're bringing some really interesting left-of-centre flavours to some pretty cool, lo-fi Italian bar snacks," Rigby said.

Eating there recently, she was impressed by a risotto dish topped with seaweed.

"It gave this beautiful umami," she said. "It's not something you would ever see in Italy but it's something that seems so natural in Australia, where we can take anything and put our own spin on it."

Another new restaurant moving down a similar vein is ACME in Rushcutters Bay, with a menu that features maltagliati pasta with washed kimchi and guanciale cured meat. 

"All of these places are Italian leaning rather than Italian, which is what makes them so cool," Rigby said.

Federico Zanellato says the adventurous attitude to mixing European and Asian flavours would not go down smoothly in Italy, but is a perfect fit for Sydney.

"Sydney is a really good place to do this because diners are very, very open-minded because there is so much influence from around the world and they like to try everything," he said.

Sydney's diverse food culture will be on display next month at the NSW Food & Wine Festival, sponsored by The Sydney Morning Herald, a celebration of local wine, artisan food and producers with events across the city and regional NSW.