60 Alinga Street Canberra, Australian Capital Territory 2601
|Opening hours||Tue-Fri noon-2pm; Tue-Sat 5.30pm-9pm|
|Features||Wheelchair access, BYO|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
|Seats||65 inside, 22 outside|
|Payments||Diner's Club, eftpos, AMEX, Cash, Visa, Mastercard|
|Phone||02 6248 5444|
Higher-end Italian dining has come a long way in Canberra in recent years, but there's still something to be said for the longstanding, no-frills, local Italian joints that dish up good pizza dough, handmade pasta and quality ingredients.
And it comes as quite the delight when you find a casual, cosy Italian eatery that just happens to be plonked right in the middle of the city.
Briscola originally opened as La Posada in 1998, later changing to Briscola, named after an Italian card game. It remains in the same spot as always though, on the ground floor of the Melbourne building, facing Alinga Street.
The restaurant serves a mixed crowd – on this particular weeknight, we're seated amongst business colleagues, a family with young children, a single diner, a few couples and a group of friends – and all are well catered for equally.
The antipasto platter ($25), which feeds two to four people, is a pleasant way to start. Served on a wooden board, it comes with prosciutto, mortadella, a super-hot salami, torn buffalo mozzarella, giardiniera (pickled vegetables) and stone-baked focaccia, which is beautifully doughy and unmistakably fresh. The whole platter is fresh and simple, letting the flavours shine through.
Potato gnocchi with gorgonzola, parmesan, ricotta, baby spinach and chilli ($23) isn't for the faint-hearted, but if it's a seriously lush and creamy pasta you're after, you get what you order. The richness makes it a hard dish to finish, but we take up the offer of a takeaway container to enjoy what we can't get through, the next day.
Pizzas have a mix of traditional and playful names, and come in small, medium and large, with the medium ($23.50) a perfect size to feed one hungry person. The Italian Job is a meat lovers of sorts, but in the true Italian style, isn't overwhelmed with toppings. The dough is a nice balance between thin and just a touch doughy, and is topped with mozzarella, Italian sausage, smoked leg ham, salami and pancetta.
For a casual restaurant, the wine list is quite well put together, with an interesting mix, particularly red, with a focus on local and Italian drops. There's also an extensive list of Italian beers, a cocktail list, and red and white sangrias available in litre jugs.
Throughout the courses, service is consistent and friendly. Staff are welcoming, attentive and knowledgeable about what's going on in the kitchen – which shouldn't be surprising in hospitality but unfortunately can be all too rare in Canberra. While we enjoy the Italian comfort food that comes out of the kitchen, it's the experience and the staff that really leave us wanting to return.
For dessert, we're recommended the special of lemon ricotta cake ($14), which is served with a cream that's been slightly whipped with vanilla, plus fresh raspberries and a drizzle of chocolate sauce. It's a beautifully moist and citrussy cake, and we're not surprised to hear that they're adding it to the regular menu.
Briscola's fitout is very casual, with bare tables, wooden chairs and basic carpet, an exposed brick wall down one side, a bar in the middle and a smattering of ferns. It might be not far from other Civic restaurants that have spent thousands, and even millions on their fitout, but Briscola isn't trying to be anything other than what it is, and it manages to do exactly that very well.