Porcorosso

Otto Pizza, tomato sauce, sausage, mozzarella, wild mushrooms and radicchio.
Otto Pizza, tomato sauce, sausage, mozzarella, wild mushrooms and radicchio. Photo: Fiona Morris

Shop 4-5, 25/33 Allen St Waterloo, NSW 2017

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96982983
Opening hours Mon-Fri, 7.30am-4pm,Thur-Sat, 6-10pm
Features Licensed, BYO
Prices Cheap (mains under $20)

Fusion cuisine is no big deal in Australia. In fact, Sydney is renowned for its culinary combinations of south-east Asian and European traditions. But when a Japanese chef hooks up with four Italian mates, there are bound to be surprises on the menu. And there are, at this great new cafe-restaurant that popped up amid the factory landscape of Waterloo earlier this year.

On a cold, rainy night, we push open the door to a large industrial space. The welcome is warm, if not the atmosphere. The high ceilings, polished cement floors and floor-to-ceiling windows make it a hard-to-heat space and we never quite get around to taking our coats off. But there's character here, with 25-kilogram bags of semolina stacked waist-high along one wall, and a window into the kitchen lined with a rack of drying fresh pasta.

You can see the jaunty red-felt fedora of the charming chef Yuka Matsuo, a long braid down her back, and the baseball cap of pizza maker Mario Gonella. Then there are the three Zizioli brothers - Fausto, Damiano and Mauro, who tonight is the personable front of house. He quickly delivers wine glasses and our antipasto: a large plate of parma prosciutto with warm, house-baked jumbo grissini arranged in a pyramid over the soft ham. It's a spectacular start and winding the ham around sticks of chewy grissini is delicious.

Spaghettini with mentaiko, nori seaweed, fresh basil and lemon zest.
Spaghettini with mentaiko, nori seaweed, fresh basil and lemon zest. Photo: Fiona Morris

The pizzas are Neapolitan-style with thin, soft bases topped with quality, fresh ingredients. The choices are numbered in Italian: uno, due, tre - quattro (four, a bad omen in Japan) is skipped - cinque, sei, sette, otto. Otto is topped with Italian sausage, slippery wild mushrooms and scattered with fresh bitter red radicchio leaves. It's beautiful but salty.

The house-made pastas are listed in Japanese: ichi, ni, san, go, roku, nana. Feeling adventurous, we go for spaghettini with a Japanese twist. The noodle-like pasta is coated in a piquant mix of mentaiko (chilli-marinated cod roe), basil and lemon zest, then topped with crunchy nori seaweed. It works surprisingly well and disappears pronto (or should that be hayai), along with an intriguing salad of tofu, seaweed, edamame, shallots and mixed leaves. I love the sesame and miso dressing, and the edamame, podded young green soybeans.

On the Italian side of things, we share a roku flower-shaped pasta with a tomato salsa that includes tuna, eggplant, capers and black olives. It pairs with a perfect rocket salad of shaved parmigiano and cherry tomatoes.

Fullness never seems to affect the capacity for dessert. Mauro agrees that the possession of a separate dessert stomach is a widespread phenomenon. Especially when there is a cabinet of daily-baked treats that includes green-tea macarons for those in Japanese mode (sake is also available). But we have our eye on the house-made tiramisu with alternate layers of chocolate cake and a rich mascarpone mixture soaked in marsala wine. Without question, it's divine. The chocoholic in our midst makes a beeline for the cioccolata calda, hot chocolate that looks alarmingly dark, thick and rich, but it's neither sweet nor sickly.

And the name? Porco Rosso means ''red pig'' in Italian but is also the title of a film by Japanese anime master Hayao Miyazaki. A perfect fit for this idiosyncratic newcomer to a rapidly changing area.

Menu Italian antipasti, pizza and pasta, with Japanese options.
Value
Very good. Antipasti, $6-$18; pizza, $19-$21; pasta, $16-$18; dessert, $7.
Recommended dishes
Parma prosciutto plate; roku pasta; tofu salad; tiramasu; Italian hot chocolate.

PORCOROSSO
Shop 4-5, 25/33 Allen Street, Waterloo, 9698 2983
Mon-Fri, 7.30am-4pm; Thu-Sat, 6-10pm
Licensed and BYO, corkage $3 a person