Italian and Sons

The one dish you must try ... Wood-baked focaccia with rosemary and sea salt ($8).
The one dish you must try ... Wood-baked focaccia with rosemary and sea salt ($8). Photo: Glen McCurtayne

7 Lonsdale Street Braddon, Australian Capital Territory 2612

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Opening hours Lunch Tues-Fri noon-2pm; dinner Mon-Sat 6pm-late
Features Accepts bookings, Licensed, Wheelchair access
Chef Francesco Petrillo
Seats 60
Payments eftpos, AMEX, Cash, Visa, Mastercard
Phone 02 6162 4888

14/20

This is just like the time I reviewed a restaurant called Bizzarri and rang the next day to ask how they came up with such a silly name for the place. ''It's my name,'' said Mr Bizzarri. Oh.

This time, it's a hot, new trattoria in Canberra called Italian and Sons, flogging ''vino e cucina'' in a modern urban space in our most capital of cities. Italian and Sons? Oh, come on. We already have Maurice Terzini and Robert Marchetti's Giuseppe Arnaldo & Sons in Melbourne, I think to myself. Australian restaurants really need to be more personal, original and less ''inspired'' by the successes of the day.

But I go anyway and I love it. It's fast and fun and a great mix of Italian, new and old. The next day, I bail up one of the owners and ask straight-up why they named the place Italian and Sons. ''My father Rosario is Italian,'' Pasquale Trimboli says. ''And Dominic, Joe, Vince and I are his sons.'' Oh.

The Trimboli Group, which also owns Mezzalira, a more formal Italian ristorante in Canberra, opened this cheeky upstart seven months ago, installing Pasquale as pizza chef and Mezzalira's Carolyn Miller as kitchen chef.

It's a dog-legged, bar-fronted room that ticks all the trattoria comfort-level boxes: espresso machine, wood-fired pizza oven, hanging salumi, bentwood chairs and paper-topped tables. A ruthless rostering of booking times means two busy, buzzy sittings a night; the second younger and more glamorous than the first. And yes, it does feel familiar to those who frequent North Bondi Italian in Sydney or Giuseppe Arnaldo & Sons, with its Italian flag colours, blackboard walls and serried ranks of Campari bottles as decor.

But I like the nine different Italian beers on offer, the lively Italian-led wine list and the energy and attitude of the waitstaff in their old-fashioned white aprons. And I love seeing a wood-fired oven used properly, not just for pizza but for daily specials of oven-roasted meats, including Roman-style porchetta, beef fillet tagliata style and slow-cooked lamb stracotto (stew).

The carb-heavy menu lists antipasti, affettati (cold meats), pasta, pizze, insalate, dolci and formaggi. Most people seem to share a few small plates of bruschetta, calamari or garlic prawns, then hit the pizza. It looks great - thin-crusted and simply accessorised - but instead I go for a floppy, puffy, charred, crusty round of focaccia topped with nothing but sea salt and rosemary ($8). It is utterly magnificent, the best I've had outside Liguria, and every mouthful brings the smell of clean ironbark smoke to the nose.

Teamed with an affettati platter of cured meats (from $10 to $23), it's a meal in itself. All but the imported prosciutto - freshly sliced, woodsy and nutty - are from Sydney's Quattro Stelle and are beautifully handled, particularly the 'nduja (pronounced endooya), a warm spreadable paste of chilli-spiked Calabrian salami, which is an over-the-top, spicy, oily treat.

Baccala fritters ($15) are wonderfully light golf balls of milk-poached salt cod, crumbed and fried until golden. It's about now that I decide I couldn't give a fico (fig) if they'd ripped off the Sistine Chapel itself. Whatever they are doing, they are doing it well. The strongly flavoured, well-formed, rustic food is easy to eat and to share; unapologetically heavy on salt, rosemary, garlic, chilli, olive oil and vinegar. Luckily the wine list seems to be coming from the same place, leading off with spumante and prosecco, passing through Antinori in Tuscany and Planeta in Sicily and coming to rest in Australia with a late-picked riesling from the Canberra region.

The 2005 Masi Campofiorin Valpolicella ($48) is good value with its food-friendly dried-cherry notes and does its best to keep up with my daily special of chunky, chewy, pork and fennel sausages, served on red-wine lentils and soft oozy polenta ($30). This is slow food - the meat chopped by hand rather than minced, according to the Trimboli family recipe - that you couldn't eat quickly if you tried.

A mercilessly al dente dish of rigatoni with a thick, rough-hewn sauce of anchovy, tomato, olive and caper and shavings of Castelsardo cheese ($26) is dry enough to be resistible, which is probably just as well. Well-made and very dense, an Amedei chocolate cake with strawberries ($12) is more city-smart than casalinga, although the thick, creamy dollop of zabaglione with it speaks the same language.

Italian and Sons is lively, good-natured and deadly serious about good Italian food and wine, with enough charm and spirit to become Canberra's most kick-ass Italian place to eat. So what if they might have borrowed a few ideas in order to get started - as long as they give them back every night as well as this.

tdurack@smh.com.au

www.italianandsons.com.au