Johnston Street’s newest Italian restaurant serves pizzoli – that’s a baked pizza sandwich
Emilio Tiesi’s (formerly of Caffe e Cucina) first solo venture is prudently pitched. Ibla Cucina deftly hits that elusive smart/casual sweet spot: it’s the kind of place you can take your Tinder sweetheart or treat the kids with a 6pm-I’m-not-cooking-tonight gourmet pizza.
The narrow, dark and handsome space has warm timber panelling, a long bar and expansive front windows that open out onto Johnson Street. Adding to the congenial air is the wait staff, who exhibit engaging enthusiasm for a Sicilian menu that features pizza and pasta, main meat dishes (including goat on the bone!) and the Ibla speciality pizzoli – that’s a baked pizza sandwich, carbophiles.
An heirloom tomato salad brings a welcome echo of summer to an autumn evening. Fresh ruby tomatoes (some, unfortunately, a little under-ripe), basil leaves and delicate dashes of olive tapenade and basil pesto encircle a globe of mozzarella whose milky curves makes you reach lustily for your knife. This synthesis of freshness, creaminess and sharpness piques the appetite.
Heeding the waiter’s recommendation of the scialatielli vongole e zucca (clams and pumpkin pasta) proves a wise move. A little thicker and wider than linguine, scialatielli’s dimensions provide satisfying strands for a sweet pumpkin sauce that’s sassed up with fresh red chillis and studded with briny clams. It’s a fork-twirlingly fine dish.
If the blonde gamberi e zucchini (prawn and zucchini) pizza is anything to go by, the pizzas deliver the goods. A large white disc is layered with molten mozzarella, topped with seven (we counted) stout prawns, thin ribbons of zucchini, pools of basil pesto and salty pancetta. Puffed up and chewy around the edges, the buttery base is pleasingly charred on the underside and not a millisecond overcooked.
After such carbnificent mains, some desserts – the sweet pistachio and white chocolate pizza, say, or the fried pizza dough with nutella – may seem a little overwhelming; however, the house-made ice creams, gelati and cassata make a gentler landing. The latter, littered with delightfully nibbly nuggets of pistachio and chocolate, is served semifreddo style with a chocolate sauce. It’s cool and creamy, though texturally perhaps a little too heavy for some.
Drinkswise, there are cocktails, Peroni on tap, and a well-thought-out selection of Italian and Antipodean wines.
Ibla Cucina is a twinkly addition to the city’s Italian food firmament. Grab a date, a mate or round up the rellies and head down for some elegantly executed simple Sicilian food. Bon appititu (as they say in Palermo).
|Venue name:||Ibla Cucina Italiana (closed)|
256 Johnston St
|Opening hours:||Tue-Thu 5.30-11pm; Fri-Sun noon-11pm|