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  • Restaurants
  • Wollongong
  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended
  1. A restaurant in an Art Deco style
    Photograph: Alice Ellis for Time Out Sydney | Santino
  2. A moody looking restaurant and kitchen
    Photograph: Alice Ellis for Time Out Sydney | Santino
  3. A plate of raw kingfish with sliced green olives
    Photograph: Alice Ellis for Time Out Sydney | Santino
  4. A plate of beef carpaccio with grated cheese and a confit egg yolk on top.
    Photograph: Alice Ellis for Time Out Sydney | Santino
  5. A bowl of pasta with a beef ragu, topped with creamy sauce
    Photograph: Alice Ellis for Time Out Sydney | Santino
  6. A restaurant with bottles of wine along the wall and lots of framed pictures.
    Photograph: Alice Ellis for Time Out Sydney | Santino

Time Out says

5 out of 5 stars

It's easy to forget you're in the 'Gong at this classy (very unbeachy) Italian joint

Typically, the beachside town of Wollongong has been characterised by breezy sea-front cafés and kiosks serving up fish and chips and burgers. That said, Wollongong’s food and drinks scene has gradually evolved over the past few years, moving far beyond “typical”. You can still order a cracking takeaway meal overlooking the ocean, but now you can also find critically acclaimed restaurants that are up there with the best eateries in Sydney. I discover that’s definitely the case with Santino, an Italian trattoria in one of the central Wollongong laneways that’s now alive with bars and shops. Santino is by the same mob as Kneading Ruby, one of the most buzzing bars and pizza joints in this coastal town, so I arrive with high expectations.

As soon as we enter the chic, low-lit space, it’s easy to forget we’re in the ’Gong. In fact, it’s hard to imagine you’re not in Rome. It’s classy, moody, very unbeachy. 

We’re seated at a table looking across at the glowing, bar-framed kitchen and bar, which are the only significant sources of light in the place. Otherwise, it’s all ambient, Art Deco lamps and candles. The floor features big terracotta and cream chequered tiles. There’s a line-up of wine bottles behind the black leather banquette seating. And the walls are packed with black-framed prints that all nod to Italy (photos of Sophia Loren, retro advertisements for tins of Italian pasta sauce, and stylised drawings of Italian towns). There’s cool jazz playing; all setting the mood for good wine, pasta and snacks. And then it delivers. 

The first thing we order – along with a dry and slightly acidic glass of Corte Giara Prosecco DOC from Fumane in Italy – is a plate of finely sliced kingfish crudo. It’s set on a bed of lightly strawberry-fied vinaigrette, which is an innovative way to give the fish a hit of sweet tang. But the masterstroke is the circles of thinly sliced green olives dotted around the fish, which gives the dish big, bold hits of umami. For some strange reason, every time I go to scoop up another bite, my mind plays tricks on me, telling me the green olives are going to be sliced grapes (perhaps because of the fruity, strawberry base); and then I’m once again thrilled when I bite through salty, meaty olive instead. 

Our other starter, the beef carpaccio, continues the umami theme. Ultra-fine strips of the raw meat are combined with mustard, coated in a grated hard ricotta, and topped with a perfectly confit egg yolk that brings delicious gooeyness to the dish once it’s mixed through. 

Now, the thing that we’ve really come here for: the pasta. It’s hard to pass up the conchiglie with blue swimmer crab, corn and Calabrian chilli, but we instead go with the pappardelle with beef shin ragu and parmesan foam. Who knows what we missed with the crab pasta, but what we gain is a delightfully luxurious bowl of handmade pasta, generously coated with a rich and well-seasoned ragu of slow-cooked beef and tomato. It’s topped with a big dollop – no, more than a dollop – of creamy parmesan sauce, which is new to me. This is the definition of creamy, satisfying comfort food.

The market fish (today, a fillet of lightly seared tuna), is delightful. It’s topped with a Tuscan-style sauce of tomatoes and kalamata olives, then layered again with a big handful of fresh parsley as well as pink pickled onion, which helps cut through the richness of every other dish we’ve ordered. With fat from the tuna, sweetness from tomatoes, salt from olives, freshness from parsley – all combined with the sour pickle – it’s a party in my mouth. Salute!

We continue the party vibes by tucking into dessert: a superbly jiggly vanilla panna cotta served with stewed-yet-still-firm rhubarb and a drizzle of olive oil; as well as an affogato with chewy almond biscotti, a perfectly smooth scoop of ice cream, bitter espresso and an almondy amaretto liqueur (when in Rome and all that jazz).

The lone flaw in our experience is a too-cold stream of air-con that seems directed at our table. We ask for it to be turned down, and the very attentive waiter warmly obliges, but even after he does, we still wish we brought a jacket on this warm, summer’s day (you can avoid our mistake by taking that as a top tip).

So, as far as vibe, decor and food quality go, we could definitely be in Sydney rather than a chill coastal town, but the thing that’s distinctly un-Sydney about Santino are the prices and serving sizes. The generous-sized entrees range from just $20 to $24, and you could come only for a bowl of the $32 pasta and a glass of wine and call it “la bella vita”. We’re keen to see what Wollongong serves up next – and if it's just as good as Santino, the future sure looks bright.

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Alice Ellis
Written by
Alice Ellis


2/17 Globe Ln
Opening hours:
Wed-Thu 5pm-late; Fri-Sun 12pm-late
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