Time Out says
Is Surry Hills the new Little Italy? With yet another authentic pizza joint opening in its leafy backstreets, the inner city is spoiled for slice action
You can’t blink without seeing an autentico pizzeria in Surry Hills these days. There are more than a dozen within the 1km squared zone bordered by Elizabeth, Oxford, South Dowling and Cleveland. That makes pretty much one pizza parlour per thousand people in Surry Hills. It’s Sydney’s crust capital.
The latest pizzaiolo to take up residence in the 2010 is longtime Sydney doughslinger Luca Mochi, whose first solo act, La Panchina (‘park bench’ in Italian) is next to Arthur Street Reserve, behind longtime pasta favourite Il Baretto. It’s a tiny space kitted out with a half dozen tables and stools squeezed next to a serious wood-burning pizza oven and an open prep kitchen. It’s small, to be sure, but the park next door is the unofficial outdoor dining area – picnic blankets covering the grass when the weather’s good, mozzies be damned. An outdoor terrace has sadly not yet materialised, but fingers crossed it happens one day, because it would double seating capacity and bring a proper Italian vibe off the main drag.
Even though it’s a tight squeeze, La Panchina is inviting in a laidback way: Italian pop playing in the background, Vespa parked out front, locals sipping espressos while kids play in the park. Small tables can be pushed together for large groups, which is so much better than, say, a birthday dinner in an empty, cavernous restaurant. The simple, single-page menu is artisan rather than paint-by-numbers pizza.
Where La Panchina really shines, though, is the dough. The crisp base a la Romana (or Marche, the region from which Mochi hails) is the sort of thing that has crust fanatics falling over themselves. It’s been proofed for up to two days, so you don’t leave the place with a bloated pizza belly. The classic Margherita (fresh tomato, mozz and a baby basil leaf per slice) is a downright steal ($18), and another $3 will get you a zhuzhed-up version topped with bufala mozzarella instead.
The more toppings-heavy pies retain their crisp crusts and have a really pleasing sauce-to-cheese-to-bits-to-crust ratio. The diavola ($22) is just the right amount of spicy with sliced chillies and salami although the napoletana. If you fancy going off piste, try one of the blackboard specials – all named after locals, such as the ‘Gemma’ (sundried tomato, pesto, olives, provolone, arugula). Or order a chef’s special – conjured up on the spot, a one-off surprise pie just for you.
La Panchina hasn’t yet drawn the throngs that some of its competitors do – likely due to the hidden location. That will change once word gets out. Need any further convincing? La Panchina’s gluten-free pizza base is so nice you can barely tell it's gluten free, lacking the cardboard character of so many GF pizzas. Their gelato offering is small but the proper Italian stuff (yes, we know Messina’s just a couple of blocks away, but trust us and try the pistachio). And the clincher? It’s BYOB.