I'm still all cut up that BrodDogs couldn't stay in the mall car park here in Belconnen. It was a glimmer of hope that was snuffed out when they moved to Foodvanville in Braddon. So I'm back in the hood to check out a new offering in the hope that some sort of food mecca has been born. Where Zefferelli's used to sit – a haunt of countless end-of-sports seasons, cheap pizzas and all-you-can- drink soft-drink parties – there's now a restaurant called L'Artista. It styles itself a gourmet Italian restaurant and has just had a refit, and a more detailed menu sees hope that maybe, just maybe, we have a new place that will send this area, just outside the mall, into the stratosphere like Italian and Sons did years ago in Braddon.
They open early for dinner, at five, which suits today's plans. It's the place is quiet which tends to not show the venue in an ideal light: full of happy diners, cutlery clinking away, conversation. The big soft-drink fridge, humming efficiently away at just above the level of the music, Bob Marley's Is this Love, is the main sound rattling off the tiled floor and walls. Even the raffia chianti bottles fail to take attention away from the advertising and contents of the Coca-Cola sponsored and filled fridge.
Again, being quiet you get to see the workings and underbelly of a place more than if it was humming. The menu is huge: entrees and breads; antipasto and insalate; pesce and other seafood; scaloppine e pollo; pasta, handmade pasta and risotto di casa. Traditional and gourmet pizza rounds out the savoury dishes. Phew, now get into it.
Some bruschetta ($9) to start. These are a pair of tomato-topped toasts, nothing to report really. It is what it is, and I'm not getting the vibe that these are tomatoes of any distinction, but pleasant for sure. From the antipasti selection that is packed with Italian favourites like arancini, prosciutto, crespelle, I grab the calamari fritti ($14) – these are served confusingly with a "petite salad" and tartare sauce. The fried squid is fine, nice and soft and not too oily but, given the penchant for Italian names and descriptions throughout the menu, I wonder why we've drifted to French speak. Carpaccio di manzo ($20) is pretty good. The beef is a little thick but tender and flavourful with its sweet balsamic glaze and typical condiments of shaved parmesan and rocket.
Mains selections went deep into the scaloppini menu with chicken parmigiana ($26) - a popular choice with my offspring, who are with me this afternoon. It's big, so they are happy, with layers of prosciutto, eggplant and mozzarella under the crumbing. I can imagine this being a favourite with local crowd. It's fine, a little big and clunky for me but, as I say, well suited to growing bodies. Saltimbocca alla Romana ($29) is the next dish on the table. Again this dish leans more toward the plentiful than restraint. Comfort food for sure and not too bad value at the price as there's a lot of food here, more prosciutto, some little balls of bocconcini all drizzled with fruit olive oil and sage leaves. The last dish is from the handmade pasta list. Tortelli ($22) is a plate of these little pods filled with minced veal and served in a sage butter sauce. The sauce is very buttery and split which doesn't really change the flavour too much but visually looks oily and the impression is that you are tucking into a bowl of pasta swimming in butter.
Along with the big menu is a good-sized drinks list, with plenty of cocktails if that's what you are after. The wine list is a little strange, a few Italian wines and varietals which aren't available by the glass yet there are a heap of wines – seven – from one producer available, for your tasting pleasure, by the glass. Tip of the hat to the seller here, and the wines are really quite good value, but it would be nice to see more of the Italian wines by the glass.
So L'Artista hasn't exactly blown me away with the promised gourmet Italian cuisine. But there's a lot of effort here and it's a good place for families and groups to tuck into the large range of value-for-money dishes.
Address: 5 Chandler Street, Belconnen
Phone: 6253 5500
Owner: Alan Myburgh
Chef: Fred Fruean
Hours: Lunch noon-2pm Tuesday to Friday; dinner 5pm-9.30pm Tuesday to Sunday.
Licensed: Yes no BYO
Vegetarian: Several options
Wheelchair access: Yes and disabled toilets
To pay: Visa, MasterCard, eftpos, cash
Seats: 220 inside, 80 outside
Rating (out of four)
Value for money: ★★★
Wine list: ★★