Take a stroll down High Street in Willoughby and you’ll notice the times are a changin’, with the Italian leading the charge
In a seemingly single burst of enthusiasm for the area, the Italian has recently slotted in next to High Street Bistro and very close-by to newcomers Gochiso Japanese and the quirky Dose Espresso café. The Italian has done a beautiful job with the interior, sporting dark-wood tables and hanging industrial lights in shades of deep green, exposed brick walls and specials written up on huge mirrors. It’s buzzing with an early dinner crowd with kids and babies in tow, who are accommodated seamlessly here both on the menu and at the table. Pizzas can be ordered in half sizes for any mini-people that tag along.
A large wood-fired pizza oven takes pride of place in the open kitchen at the Italian, although we’re not completely convinced they have the workings of it up to speed yet. It seemed that the intensity of blazing heat that is really essential to cooking in one of these isn’t quite there.
There’s a sizeable offering of 16 pizze, six served bianche – "white", without tomato. The mushroom, gorgonzola and sage number is a little light on the gorgonzola, which is hidden under a carpet of melted mozzarella, and the sage leaves seem an afterthought, scattered randomly on top of everything else. The dough unfortunately also suffers the fate of a just-not-hot-enough oven, the charred blisters we love so much are missing, and it’s overly chewy (house-made grissini with fennel seeds are also a bit chewy, missing that dry snap.) The Margherita is a way smarter choice with light, creamy buffalo mozzarella, tomato and fresh basil.
All the pastas are made in-house, the rigatoni Calabria is tossed with ricotta, uniformly sliced fennel and pork sausage. The dish is a little heavy-handed with the salt, too, but the robust salad of dense Tuscan cabbage, beans, pine nuts and pecorino tossed with a well balanced vinaigrette is polished off before any of the other dishes on our table and makes up for a lot. As does the wine list, a mix of fun Italian drops from nearly every region of the homeland, and a few Australian bottles too like the Serafino Bellissima Lagrein from South Australia. A 500ml carafe of house red or white is only $16, which are easy drinking and excellent value.
To finish, a simple and retro glass of poached pear and red wine sorbet is served slightly too soft, but is utterly refreshing. If it’s not fancy fare you're after, but a casual weekday meal that is perfect for families, head to the Italian and stick to the basics.