2 8 Kensington St Chippendale, NSW 2008
|Opening hours||Mon-Wed 6–11pm ; Thu-Sat 12:30–3pm, 6–11pm ; Sun Closed|
|Features||Outdoor seating, Lunch specials, Degustation, Accepts bookings, Groups, Vegetarian friendly, Bar, Licensed|
|Prices||Expensive (mains over $40)|
|Payments||eftpos, AMEX, Cash, Visa, Mastercard|
|Phone||02 9281 1500|
There's free food all over Sydney if you know where to look, from the peanuts at the bar of Shady Pines Saloon to the counter samples of strawberry sponge at Kurtosh bakery outlets.
Or you can dine at Olio, newly installed on the second floor of Kensington Street's Old Rum Store in Chip 'n Dale.
It's generous enough to throw in a complimentary appetiser that could be a perky panzanella of vegetables with sourdough crumbs, a pre-dessert of sorbet that tastes like a lemonade icy-pole; and post-dinner pistachio biscotti and blood orange bon-bons.
I know, I know, you're paying for it all with your dinner, but let's not look gift horses in the mouth.
Besides, the mouth is too full of house-made focaccia, paper-thin pane carasau crispbread from Sardinia and fresh Sonoma sourdough from the overflowing bread basket (no extra charge), accompanied by a generous bowl of golden, clingy, fruity, nutty olive oil, from the chef's family olive groves in Sicily.
Olio is Sicilian by way of Singapore, home to chef Lino Sauro's flagship restaurant, Gattopardo.
It's a generous warehouse space; tall-ceilinged, with light flooding in through huge original, wood-framed windows (whose glass needs a clean) onto clothed tables and smart chairs. Young staff are warm and eager, and generous with their Italianness.
Not yet sure where chef Sauro sits on the traditional-versus-modern spectrum, I test him by ordering the most Sicilian-sounding dish on the list, pasta con le sarde of bucatini (the fat spag with a hole in the middle) with sardines ($26). Thank the lord, it hasn't been deconstructed. Instead, it's wonderfully mulchy with wild fennel, saffron, raisins and pinenuts, bringing together that boatload of influences that make Sicilian food both moreish and Moorish.
Arancini ($14) are surprisingly homely, three over-sized crisp-shelled balls of saffron-tinted risotto wrapped around beef ragu and mozzarella; a simple tomato sauce pooling beneath.
The Ligurian specialty of salt-baked snapper (done so well at Lucio's in Paddington) can be ordered on the spot here for $68 to share – a generous act. The chef brings the 700-gram wild-caught fish to the table, cracking open the pale salt crust as carefully as an archaeologist with an ancient sarcophagus. Lightly steamed and perfectly seasoned, the flesh needs little of the oregano-rich salmoriglio dressing. Included in the price are a saltily dressed green salad and pale roast potatoes with rosemary.
Zuppa ($34) is also traditionally played, the deep, dark seafood stew in a terracotta pot studded with mussels and clams, some overcooked prawns, squid and snapper in a rich, bisquey sauce; the requisite grilled sourdough tucked in for sauce-mopping.
Unsurprisingly, there's a good sprinkling of worthwhile Sicilian labels in the Oz/Italian wine list, including a crisp, clean 2015 Graci Etna Bianco ($70).
To finish, la cassata alla Siciliana goes mod; deconstructed into a mishy-mash of ricotta cream and chocolate "soil", honeycomb and edible flowers around a tart lemon sorbet. I think I would have liked the trad version more – this one tastes like an exotic chocolate ripple cake.
Anyone can throw in a heap of freebies and still not be innately generous. Olio manages to shower you with goodies, big Sicilian flavours and a great sense of Italian hospitality at the same time.
Best bit A lovely shady terrace for aperitivi
Worst bit A few too many crumbs and crumbles
Terry Durack is chief restaurant critic for The Sydney Morning Herald and senior reviewer for the Good Food Guide. This rating is based on the Good Food Guide scoring system.
Go-to Dish: Salt-baked snapper with salmoriglio, salad and roast potatoes, $68 for two