Da Rosario

Street cred: Da Rosario pizzicheria in Civic.
Street cred: Da Rosario pizzicheria in Civic. Photo: Elesa Kurtz

59 London Circuit Canberra, Australian Capital Territory 2601

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Opening hours 7am-3pm (sometimes later)
Features Licensed, Vegetarian friendly, Wheelchair access, Cheap Eats, Gluten-free options
Chef Francesco Petrillo
Seats 20 to 30 depending on the weather. Outside stools and small tables only.
Payments AMEX, Visa, Mastercard, eftpos
Phone 02 6230 0025

It wasn’t that long ago that one of Australia’s oldest and best restaurants, Grossi Florentino, broke the $50 a plate barrier. For your money you get a spectacular meal in one of the grand institutions of Melbourne dining, the mural room in the upstairs restaurant.

But for me the thing that distinguishes Florentino are the two "downstairs" options, the Grill – all white tablecloths and sharp suited diners– and my favourite, the Cellar Bar. Narrow and often full of regulars reading papers, it provides simple, spectacular food at a fraction of the upstairs price. The Cellar Bar tells us that everyone deserves to eat well, not only those who can afford to eat upstairs, and that eating well should and can be an everyday thing.

Back home in Canberra, enter Da Rosario, the newly opened breakfast and lunch spot, operating out of a narrow space alongside the Trimboli family’s fine diner Mezzalira in the Melbourne Building. Modelled on a pizzicheria of the kind found in Venice, clusters of stools and tables line the pedestrian strip outside the hole-in-the-wall space, with an industrial heater above to cut the winter chill. Some patrons are just sipping coffee, but for most the lure of a brioche stuffed with egg and bacon, or a wood-fired panino as big as your hand, filled with, say, cotechino sausage and salsa verde (green herby sauce) is just too much.

Beautifully balanced: Calamari, chickpeas and cavolo nero.
Beautifully balanced: Calamari, chickpeas and cavolo nero. Photo: Elesa Kurtz

As lunch time rolls around bubbling pots of veal meatballs in sauce are ready to go and a range of great singular pizzas, blistered from the wood-fire oven, begins to fill tables. We sit, restrain ourselves and consult the menu. The single-page document is a delight to read: three or so pizzas, a scattering of antipasti, a few pastas, a dish of sardines in light batter with currants and onions, a lamb shank for the seriously hungry. We try and devise a way or ordering everything, but in the end settle on three dishes to share.

First a dish of gnocco fritto ($10) is three golden pillows, slightly crisped, with creamy cheese inside and a generous helping of tender of prosciutto for wrapping. The waiter explains the best way to eat them is with your fingers and he is right. Part of the experience is biting though the sweet prosciutto and golden skin into the creamy cheese centre. This dish is a real treat, and extraordinary value for money, as is the whole menu.

A tumbler of wine or an Italian craft beer from the small carefully chosen list washes the food down nicely. Next comes a dish of calamari, chickpeas and cavolo nero (tangy Tuscan cabbage – more like robust spinach) in white wine ($12). This beautiful balanced dish is a perfect example of subtle, skilled use of quality ingredients. Steaming in a sweet seafood broth, strips of melting-tender squid combine perfectly with the earthy goodness of chickpeas and deep green cavolo nero. This is a dish I could happily eat every day, and not a scrap is left in the bowl.

Orecchiette with suckling lamb sauce.
Orecchiette with suckling lamb sauce. Photo: Elesa Kurtz

Handmade orecchiette ("little ears" of pasta) form tiny scoops for a slow-cooked suckling lamb sauce ($17). The wholesome flavour of the lamb shines though, with only a little tomato in evidence, and marries perfectly with the tender pasta. A generous serve, this is perhaps the best value quality pasta dish in Canberra. There are a few little issues for Da Rosario to deal with: some dishes can take a little while to arrive, with lots of running in and out of the Mezzalira front doors. But it is early days and we assume this will be ironed out. Service is super friendly and well informed, with staff clearly as keen on the new venture as the customers are.

Da Rosario is part of a growing Canberra trend for good simple food available in less formal surroundings, with Loading Zone, Autolyse and Lonsdale Street Roasters as good examples. This is a trend to be loudly applauded. And as the Trimboli family did with the super-cool Italian and Sons, they have raised the bar again. Da Rosario is an exciting place to grab a spectacular breakfast or lunch at rock bottom prices, but that’s not all. It is sign of a city with a maturing food culture that can be enjoyed by everyone.