47 Windsor St Paddington, NSW 2021
|Opening hours||Lunch Thu-Sat noon-3pm; dinner Wed-Sat 5.30-10pm|
|Features||Accepts bookings, Groups, Romance-first date, Bar, Business lunch, Events, Family friendly, Gluten-free options, Licensed, Long lunch, Lunch specials, Private dining, Vegetarian friendly|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
|Phone||02 9189 3060|
It feels a little weird to be dining in what has been Lucio's for the past 38 years without being enclosed, held, framed, by the colour, form and texture on the walls. Instead of being chockers with paintings, the walls hold only the odd pleasant photograph of the Italian seaside.
It makes newcomer Civico 47 a blank canvas on which the new team can paint their own story. Leased by former coalmining brothers Brendan and Leigh McPherson, whose last investment was the ill-fated Regatta at Rose Bay, the long, low Paddington building has been refreshed from the ground up.
The money has been put to good use, with lovely crazy-paving floors and leather-bound dining chairs. Opening the kitchen up is more interesting for both chefs and diners, and there's freshness and energy in the air.
Executive chef Matteo Zamboni brings his own accent to the Italian menu. Having trained at Rome's starred La Pergola and Milan's Ristorante Cracco, he came to Sydney in 2009 to cook first at Ormeggio, then Pilu at Freshwater, and Jonah's at Palm Beach.
He's one of those chefs who builds a certain elegance into whatever he is cooking. A small, bun-shaped focaccina ($7) is done in the Pugliese style, baked with squishy little tomatoes pushed into the top.
A simple, start-the-meal assembly of gamey salame felino, smooth cow's milk cheese and pickled radicchio ($18) comes with crisp shards of pane carasau.
Pasta is a strong point, the three options including round, fine-skinned ravioli ($32), plumped-up with creamy ricotta and teamed with crisped sage leaves and a chip-chop of soft red capsicum; a mellow autumnal dish.
And if you never order pasta with seafood because they won't give you parmigiano, and you really only order pasta for the parmigiano in the first place (I hear you), try the mafalde with prawns ($35) anyway. The long al dente strands of frilly-edged pasta are coated with a lush, tomato-red bisque-like sauce, studded with curls of tender prawn meat and a few random green stems of Chinese cabbage; rich but light. You won't miss the cheese.
Main courses are notable for their timing and temperature. The wild-caught fish fillet tonight is super-fresh swordfish. Not the usual flat surfboard of a steak, it's a deep brick of wedding-white flesh, first seared on the plancha (flat grill), then finished in the oven. It cuts like butter, the flavour clean and clear, and the flesh free of that oddly crunchy cartilage that swordfish can have. It could take on something that has more character than a bland collection of cabbage and cauliflower with droplets of caper sauce and parsley oil, however.
Slow-roasted and grilled tiles of chuck tail flap (heavily marbled beef, cut from the shoulder) look the picture, with grilled shishito peppers and sauteed celery ($49). Glazed with dates, it's very rich, a little resilient and a bit ho-hum.
Wait staff are kept busy, but remain attentive without being formal, and are happy to talk through wine offerings.
A little bowl of sage and white chocolate gelato in brown butter is a nostalgia hit for those (like the chef) raised in Brescia, in Northern Italy, where sage-infused milk is given to children to help them sleep. It makes me wonder why we don't use strong winter herbs such as sage and rosemary more often in desserts.
The weight of history and nostalgia means Lucio's is a hard act to follow, but Civico is a classy addition to the neighbourhood, pitched to the emerging younger Paddington set without scaring the horse-and-carriage generation.
With Zamboni in the kitchen there's technique and structure built around contemporary but comfortable Italian. He'll need to build on the menu – it's easy to feel you've done it all in a couple of visits – but the place has a warm glow about it and the food is thoughtful and visually appealing.
So there's still plenty of art around, after all. Just not on the walls.
Vibe Neighbourhood Italian that's pitch-perfect for Paddington
Go-to dish Mafalde pasta with king prawn, bok choy and tomato ($35)
Drinks Aperitivi, digestivi, classic Italian cocktails and a solid wine list showcasing Italy, France and Australia