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Modern Italian in the 'sham is all about unconventional flavours, classic wines and a highly considered setting for your next special occasion
If you’re about to deck out a new kitchen, you’re going to want to Pinterest the illuminated finishes, every piece of curvy cutlery and all the handmade dappled ceramic crockery at Noi. The restaurant comes to us from the family of LuMi, Aqua Dining and Ormeggio at the Spit, all of which are leaders in the ‘fancy-but-welcoming’ subcategory of Sydney dining. And while Noi is no black sheep, it definitely feels like a stand-alone project from owner Anastasia Drakopoulos and head chef Alessandro Intini.
Noi means ‘we’ or ‘us’ in Italian, and the cosy communal space indeed makes you feel like you could very much leave the comfort of your seat, wander up next to the pans and start chatting with the chef. The room is beautifully laid out, easy on the eyes with clever lighting and wooden surfaces that create a heightened sense of intimacy. Glimpse through the triangular window to a cellar heavily stocked with Italian vino, and consider starting with a Prosecco from Intini’s native Veneto, a great way to settle into the mood of – wait...is that the Red Hot Chili Peppers blasting from the speakers? Wild. An ornate wooden treasure box filled with a range of doughy breads – focaccia, baby rolls and grissini arrives to a guitar solo. The grissini are the highlight, infused with lemon verbena flavour that lingers.
You get the sense that you’re in finer dining territory because the dishes are listed in that minimal ‘three elements separated by commas’ format. Faced with roughly a dozen choices across entrées, pasta and mains, there’s a glimmer of Massimo Bottura in this menu with playful treatment of all sorts of Italian classic foundations. Be aware that portions, for the most part, are small yet potent, often based around a single hero cut of meat or fish with several dollops, sprinklings and baby leaves supporting in colourful artistic flair.
Those of the plant-based persuasion might be tempted by a sculptured dish of colourful stacked raw and baked baby carrots, with even smaller carrot crisps balanced on top, plated like the final round of a carrot Jenga tournament. Despite the shards of macadamia and a lemon myrtle citronette, the flavours don’t excite quite as much as the aesthetics. Dive instead for the raviolini with mushroom and tarragon, which arrives in a charmingly simple, deep (Pin it) black speckled bowl. The broth seems to have extracted every last ounce of umami from the shiitakes. It's a real standout.
Staff are switched on, full of smiles and eager for everyone to enjoy themselves, anticipating each dish’s potential to surprise and perhaps even challenge diners at points. They stand by for the reaction as we plunge through a rich layer of coconut foam into a chunky disc of pig’s head terrine, super rich with gelatinous textures. It could almost be a dessert, if it wasn’t, well, a pig’s head. Speaking of which, don’t hurry the bill and skip out on the ‘terramisu’ – it’s like buying a little edible succulent from the markets, with cute and crunchy miso soil and an intoxicatingly creamy base hiding underneath.
The inclusive spirit of Noi certainly knits together some bravely disparate elements – location, flavours, music, wines, service, with an occasionally confusing juxtaposition between the classic and the experimental. Without a doubt though, it’s a fun and beautiful spot for a date or a special occasion that won't break the bank, and it raises the stakes in Petersham’s dining scene.
108 Audley St
|Opening hours:||Mon, Tue 5-10pm; Thu noon-3.30pm & 5-10pm;|