47 Windsor Street Paddington, NSW 2021
|Opening hours||Tue-Sat 12.30-2.45pm; Tue-Thu 6.30-10.15pm; Fri-Sat 6-10.15pm|
|Prices||Expensive (mains over $40)|
|Phone||02 9380 5996|
Art collectors can spend a lifetime in pursuit of a Sidney Nolan Ned Kelly, but for Lucio and Sally Galletto, it was the first work they acquired for Paddington's most colourful restaurant.
It was 1984 and Nolan had just wrapped filming on Burke & Wills, where he had been employed to paint scenes of the shoot. The artist celebrated at Lucio's and sketched one of his Ned Kelly letterbox helmets on the back of the bill.
Lucio Galletto was so honoured to find the drawing (Nolan was well into his blue chip period by this point), the restaurant owner spent a small fortune framing it with gold leaf. Ned still keeps an unblinking eye on Lucio's entrance today.
The charming Galletto hails from Liguria, Italy, and met a backpacking Sally Stanford of Mudgee while working at his family's restaurant in the summer of 1975. The couple married in Paris and arrived in Sydney two years later. Lucio's opened in Balmain in 1981 and relocated to Paddington's leafy Windsor Street in 1983.
The restaurant site originally housed The Hungry Horse, a local artist-magnet featuring an eatery downstairs and gallery on the first level. "When Lucio's opened, most artists requested a table on the ground floor," head sommelier Dirk Bromley tells me on a recent visit. "They knew the perils of descending those stairs after a few bottles all to well."
Saturday lunch is the best time to visit, when the day is young and the night is free. The dining room pulses with gifts from other key figures in modern Australian art, many of them sketched alla Nolan at the linen-draped tables. Tim Storrier, John Coburn, Charles Blackman, Elisabeth Cummings, Reg Mombassa, they're all here. Galletto's dear friend John Olsen has designed the menu art for more than 25 years.
This isn't a cheap day out. Gnocchi al tartufo is going to set you back $55 for a primi-sized serve. But, you're also surrounded by one of the world's greatest restaurant art collections and that potato gnocchi is a humdinger – finely-milled pillows glossy with house-made truffle butter under a canopy of fresh Canberra perigord. Heaven.
George Kohler leads the kitchen as the fifth head chef in 35 years and continues the tradition of classic Italian cooking rendered in contemporary style. Tagliolini alla granseola ($34) has been a signature since the doors opened, a Ligurian specialty combining land and sea through silverbeet pasta rich with springy hunks of blue swimmer crab in fruity tomato sauce. Because no one in Sydney had the faintest was tagliolini was in 1983, Galletto called the dish "green noodles". In a nod to that time of Blue Nun and bolognese, the pasta has remained listed as noodles ever since.
A gold star for venison served with something that isn't beetroot. Kohler slow-braises venison shank and plates it with cauliflower puree, Tuscan kale and market-fresh romanesco. A marrow-filled bone stands tall on the plate and diners are encouraged to scrape out the good stuff and whip it though the fall-apart shank. It's one heck of a delicious time.
Service is excellent; attentive but never suffocating. Bromley provides guided art tours with the same smooth poise he decants a Gattinara 2013 Nervi Nebbiolo that's herbal, smoky and elegant. (At $140 it qualifies as a mid-priced bottle on the list). Galletto greets regulars and keeps an eye on the floor like any serious padrone, but it's the kids properly running the show these days. Siblings Michela and Matteo Galletto have been appointed joint restaurant managers and both possess a high level of professionalism.
"We think it's important for our little family restaurant that there's a Galletto on the floor for every service," says Sally Galletto. "And having that youth and vitality keeps us young – the restaurant is older than they are!"
Lucio's is a truly wonderful place, as vital to Paddington's DNA as small dogs, noble figs and that other great Italian institution, Buon Ricordo. May Ned Kelly and noodles rule the suburb for generations to come.
Famous diners John Olsen, Tim Storrier, Malcolm Turnbull, Paul Keating, Maggie Tabberer.