Can't beat tradition: Spaghetti and meatballs at Steve Manfredi's Balla. Photo: Quentin Jones
When it comes to regional food snobbery and pride, Italians rate as the most passionate in the world. While it may have once been molto difficile to appease such passions outside of Italy, there is now a broad selection of Sydney restaurants capable of satisfying the most staunchly parochial Italian.
In fact, many of Sydney's top Italian chefs say the restaurant scene here has evolved to the point where both traditional and innovative approaches to the food of their homeland are now being accepted as worthy expressions of Italy's history and traditions. Here are just a few of the places in Sydney that you would be proud to take an Italian to - no matter what region they were from.
Pilu at Freshwater
When not in Rome: Da Orazio Pizza and Porchetta in Bondi. Photo: Fiona Morris
Who to take? A Sardinian from Giovanni's home town of San Teodoro.
There's nothing quite as calming for a Sardinian as the smell of roasting porceddu (suckling pig). This classic dish is a highlight on Giovanni Pilu's menu as he says it reminds him of "the Italy of old". While the menu plays to local seasonal ingredients and celebrates the best of Sardinian food and wine, the location - a pebble's throw from the sea - will make visiting Italians want to stay forever.
On the beach, Moore Road, Freshwater, 9938 3331, piluatfreshwater.com.au
Focaccia con porchetta. Photo: Fiona Morris
Lucio's in Paddington
Who to take? A swarthy love interest from Liguria.
While the food rustled up at Lucio Galletto's iconic Paddington restaurant veers towards being traditional, he also offers new slants on cucina Liguria.
Berta's risotto cake. Photo: Brianne Makin
Galletto concedes many older Italians may not be very adventurous eaters, but he says they are more than happy with "dishes like pesto, made at the table in a mortar and pestle or pesce del giorno [fish of the day]". Having the walls lined with serious art makes Lucio's a magnet for modern-day Renaissance men, too.
47 Windsor Street, Paddington, 9380 5996.
Who to take? Model Megan Gale & editor-in-chief of Vogue Italia Franca Sozzani.
If you want Italian country comfort food at its best sit around the marble communal tavola at A Tavola's sexy new sister restaurant in Bondi. Share plates rippled with prosciutto, big fat olives, arancini and fresh-baked bread, or enjoy a hearty bowl of tagliatelle slicked with ragú´ - a dish Eugenio Maiale says is imprinted in his mind from childhood. The busy Abruzzese-influenced eatery is where Italian expats go to feel happy.
75-79 Hall Street, Bondi, 9130 1246, atavola.com.au
Who to take? Italian surfing prodigy Leonardo Fioravanti.
This is the sort of eatery you should take a diehard Italian snob to, to show them how far Italian cooking has come. For a start, the chef is from Ecuador. Second, his style is uncompromisingly true to classic regional Italian traditions (read: not too cheffy). Third, the food and wine is sinfully good. Settle down on the sexy leather banquette and watch chef Ruben Martinez (ex-La Scala) give serious attention to dishes such as pesce all'acqua pazza (fish in crazy water).
1 McDonald Street, Cronulla, 9523 0137, giro-osteria.com.au
Who to take? Zia Maria and Zio Carlo and their impossibly beautiful brood.
Stefano Manfredi has mastered the art of elegant restraint on the plate. The passionate Lombardian, who migrated to Australia with his family in 1961, cooks with great ingredients and uses nature's palette to make them shimmer. Manfredi's Balla at the Star is like a village eatery on steroids with a modern focus on sustainability and seasonality. The go-to dish for greedy Italians is the gnocchi gnudi served with burnt butter and parmigiani.
Retail Arcade, 80 Pyrmont Street, Pyrmont 9657 9129, manfredi.com.au
Da Orazio Pizza and Porchetta
Who to take? Your achingly stylish cousins from Milan.
Maurice Terzini's new restaurant celebrates both pork and pizza on a plate. It's like old-school Italian dude food. Terzini is keeping it simple, but he's also toying with the public's perceptions - offering a light, bright space that is in stark contrast to his previously moody offerings.
It's a place hard to pigeonhole, which is entirely indicative of where Italian food is at - both in Australia and Italy. Italians or otherwise will enjoy focaccia con porchetta ($26), which is as comforting as Sunday lunch with la famiglia.
3/75-79 Hall Street, Bondi 8090 6969, daorazio.com
Who to take? Author of My Italian Notebook, Gough Whitlam.
The stream-of-consciousness spiel on Berta's home page says it all: Italian, seasonal, shared, whole animal, simple, precise, smooth, bold, seasonal, beautiful, detailed etc.
True to Italian traditions, chef O Tama Carey changes the menu at Berta a little every day, depending on what's in season. Carey says even the most passionate sticklers for tradition are excited over her current dish of the day: carrot and caraway gnocchi with braised rabbit and black olives.
Berta, 17-19 Alberta Street, Sydney, 9264 6133, berta.com.au
Who to take? The founder of the slow-food movement Carlo Petrini.
Buon Ricordo is Italian for ''fond memories'' and Armando Percuoco has clocked up quite a few over the 53 years he has been cooking Italian food.
The celebrated chef has one of Sydney's most established restaurants, housed in a stunning heritage Victorian terrace in Paddington. Percuoco agrees there is sense and value in tradition, but he says it's also important to move with the times. "It's important to take the good from tradition and take it to the future," he says.
108 Boundary Street, Paddington, 9360 6729, buonricordo.com.au
Who to take? Rome's Michelangelo of Pizza, pizzaiolo Gabriele Bonci.
When Italy's Michelangelo of Pizza Gabriele Bonci was in Sydney to participate in the World Chef Showcase in 2012, he declared Lucio De Falco's pizza to be "profoundly true to Napoli traditions". De Falco is a pizza purist and says he felt happy and proud that Bonci appreciated his wood-fired creations and that his Italian customers tell him "it's better than the pizza in Napoli". Get fired up over the margherita and marinara.
248 Palmer Street, Darlinghurst, 9332 3766, luciopizzeria.com.au
Who to take? Italy's victorious 2014 football World Cup team.
This is the sort of place where Italians go to get lost in the pleasures of eating. Alessandro Pavoni has an artist's eye for detail with dishes that use the underlying principles of Italian cooking and turn them upside down. Expect exceptional dishes such as milk-poached cod with polenta croutons and Dutch cream potatoes or tortelli filled with wagyu beef cheek. Enjoy a post-prandial passeggiata when you leave your mooring at the waterfront restaurant.
D'Albora Marinas, Spit Road, Mosman, 9969 4088, ormeggio.com.au