No frills is the name of the game at La Botte, an old-school Italian joint in the heart of Willoughby's dining district. And while we appreciate that "district" may be generous, it really is worth the trip if you're after truly comforting and delicious eating.
Exposed bricks, grey carpet, tightly packed tables and pebblecrete all feature at the time capsule, where bottles of chianti come wrapped in straw fiasci and salads are complete with curlicue carrots. None of this is a slight, in fact, we say it with the highest of praise. The charm of such a space lies in that quality feeling of being let in on a secret reserved for those in the know, and who have known for a very long time.
It is charming when an enthusiastic chef and owner wanders the restaurant floor to chat with long-time customers, with big hand gestures, personal recommendations, and unexpected connections to wine importers. In a world of ultra hip, ultra expensive restaurants where reservations are hard to come by, the slower pace and all-are-welcome atmosphere is refreshing and nostalgic all at once. What a vibe.
But back to those personal recommendations. The pasta is where it's at here, namely the outstanding raviolo of ricotta, porcini mushrooms and nutmeg in a pool of sage burnt butter. Simplicity executed with exceptional care, paper-thin sheets of egg pasta, butter pushed right to the edge of nut brown, and woody warm spice from the freshly grated nutmeg make this a must order.
If raviolo ain't your thing, don't go past the angel hair, crab and chilli. Rich in olive oil and generous with the picked crab, the al dente pasta dish has a transporting quality, close your eyes and imagine you're sitting at a southern Italian trattoria.
Restaurants like La Botte are a dying breed, where a generous long lunch doesn't break the bank, strict out-by times are never uttered, and regulars are remembered by name and portions are kept aside with a heads up. Things have functioned much the same since the doors swung open in 1982 and it is that strident commitment to consistency that we hope keeps La Botte around for another 40 years to come.