297 Victoria Road Gladesville, NSW 211102 9817 3457
|Opening hours||Tue-Sun, noon-3pm, 5.30-10pm; Sat-Sun, breakfast, 8-11am|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
Eating out and upmarket food shopping - such cherished Sydney weekend pastimes. Of course they should be combined.
Mercato e Cucina (''market and kitchen'') is like nothing Gladesville - or perhaps Sydney - has ever seen. Combining an Italian restaurant with a bakery, butcher, wine cellar, greengrocer and deli in one sprawling space on Victoria Road, it clearly takes its cues from US gourmet eat-in megastores, such as Dean & DeLuca and New York's Eataly. It is banking on the appeal of local restaurant-delis such as Fratelli Fresh: go out for lunch then pick up what you need for dinner in the evening.
Owner Vanessa Martin has taken no short cuts on the fitout, with the restaurant claiming half of the space and retail the rest. It's all polished concrete, dark wood, exposed brick and white tiles, softened with luxurious details, including a leather banquette along one side of the restaurant, bronze menu covers and a copper-clad wood-fired oven.
In the restaurant, the menu is classic Italian in structure, offering primi, secondi, pizza and pasta, and dolci. The primi choices take a more-is-more-is-more approach to flavour: gnocchi gets a four-cheese sauce, then hazelnuts, roasted with honey and crushed, and truffle oil. A tortelloni (large tortellini) is filled with scallops and chives, then given a prosecco and butter sauce, and prawn oil on top of that. There are also a few French dishes - goat's cheese souffle and paté.
We begin with a generous slice of duck, chicken and mascarpone paté, rich and sweet, served with crisp cornichons, a tangle of pickled onion salad, and honey-soaked dried apricots.
From the pasta section, silky ribbons of pappardelle are flecked with parsley and cooked just to al dente, then tossed with a pork sausage ragu with shaved ricotta salata - not your soft, fresh ricotta, but hard, aged ricotta.
Pizza is more traditionally Italian, with pared-back toppings. Ours arrives with a blackened, chewy base and a simple combination of tomato, anchovies, olives and fior de latte. We spy another table's seafood version topped with mussels in their shells - pretty, yes, but perhaps slightly annoying to eat.
The main courses are substantial and carnivorous. There is spatchcock baked in a bag with truffle butter, and wet-roasted Roman-style lamb. We order the special of the day, the suckling pig, which is served solo, so we also order the day's salad of radicchio, blood orange and fennel. The pork, though rubbed with garlic and fennel seeds, is unfortunately and disappointingly dry, and the crackling is stiff.
The salad is good, crunchy and bittersweet, though the blood orange has been replaced by garden-variety segments - it's probably too late in the season. The permanent menu sides are unexciting: rocket and parmesan salad, chunky fries and steamed vegetables. Service is enthusiastic and generally attentive, with good menu knowledge. We're seated at the banquette at a two-person table that's narrow but long, leaving us just out of comfortable conversation distance. The wine list is extensive and mostly Italian, with interesting choices by the glass; we try a Montepulciano d'Abruzzo and a sweet-scented, crisp Soave.
The dessert list is much like the entrees, with elaborate, rich flavour combinations. A caramelised orange tart with pistachio ice cream, Cointreau syrup and candied orange peel is sharp and creamy with delicate pastry but unfortunately the curd hasn't quite set and puddles on the plate.
With rumours that a Sydney branch of Eataly is set to open in 2014, it's good to see a local version with a solid head start.
Menu Classic Italian served with groceries to covet.
Recommended dishes Duck, chicken and mascarpone pate; pork sausage pappardelle; pizza.