Its been a long while since I ordered pasta out. When you learn how to make pasta yourself at home, you can’t help but laugh at the tomato-laden prawn linguine on the bar bistro menu. Hand-made pasta compared to the horrendous dried pasta I used to use and eat has a characteristic silkiness to it; it’s like a different type of starch – I can’t explain it. It’s amazingly good to eat simply – tossed in good quality melted butter with a shaving of Parmesan and freshly cracked black pepper, or accompanied with a soft-boiled egg and some meltingly tender slow-cooked meat.
Despite being a self-confessed pasta snob, I’ve been curious to try Pasta Emilia for some time. I’ve seen their products sold in specialist delis and at Eveleigh Markets, but I wanted to see what their standalone shop in Surry Hills was like. It was a bright and sunny Saturday morning when I walked up from Central Station over to Riley Street. I was huffing and puffing up the hill, and suddenly realised why I was so much slimmer in my early days of dating Night Owl – when we went out on our dates we spent most of the time traipsing around the hilly streets of Surry Hills and Darlinghurst; it’s one helluva workout!
Pasta Emilia is a photographer’s dream. A high, wooden-beamed ceiling, soft accents, sunlight streaming in through the windows, small vases of dried and fresh flowers alike, sanded back paint and mis-matched wooden chairs. A pile of pasta machines sits in an open cupboard to the back of the room, ready for Pasta Emilia’s pasta-making classes, while the chalkboard lists the day’s specials.
I’m lunching with Kulinary Adventures of Kath today, and we elect to go with two starters and a dish of pasta each. Everything on the menu uses local, certified organic, biodynamic and sustainable ingredients. The food leans towards slightly more exxy for Italian food, but for this quality of ingredients, expect to shell out a bit more.
While waiting for Kath I admire the extensive wine list. Again, natural, organic and biodynamic wines are featured here from Italy and Australia. It’s a warm day and I’ve had an energetic workout walking up to the restaurant so I’m not really in the mood for some wine – perhaps next time!
We start with a simple Caprese salad with fresh buffalo mozarella, tomatoes and rocket ($16). The mozarella is cool and sweet, softly gooey on the inside like a soft cooked egg. The radicchio and rocket leaves add a touch of fresh bitterness alongside the sweetness of the tomatoes, and it’s all balanced out with a good drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.
Both of us girls are a sucker for crispy things, and eye the Crispy Polenta ($9). It’s lightly salted and perfectly crisp on the outside and corners, pillow soft on the inside.
For our pasta, Kath chooses to go back to the basics, choosing the Tomato and Basil Gnocchi ($24). Crumbled Parmesan and chilli oil is brought out when our pastas arrive.
Gnocchi is one of those things I’ve not been able to make very well. I admit I’ve only made it once, where I steamed the potatoes yet they still absorbed too much water, meaning I was adding too much flour and turned it into a stodgy, nasty mess. Pasta Emilia’s is of course in a different realm to mine – tender, like little pockets of clouds. It inspires me to maybe try my hand at gnocchi again one day soon.
I had decided to go with one of the specials on the chalkboard, being the Penne Salsicca Ragu – i.e. sauce with sausage. In hindsight, I would have liked the chalkboard items to have listed their prices as this dish turned out to be more expensive than I had anticipated (our later bill came up to $40 each), but when the dish arrived it was easy to see why.
The colour of the pasta easily indicated an egg-yolk rich pasta, and the texture of the penne was a silkiness of which I have never before tasted. The ragu still held the perfume of its wine reduction, and softly fragranced with herbs, it was a classic example of the sauce being an accompaniment for the pasta – as it should be – not the sauce overwhelming the pasta as is the mistake many still make.
After our luxurious lunch, we popped downstairs to the Cantina to check out the neatly packaged rows of Pasta Emilia pasta and sauces, and admired the basket of warm organic eggs for sale. I believe Madame Truffles has a pop-up store there this winter until next month – and I’m planning on popping by during my lunch break tomorrow, so maybe I’ll see you there? 😉
259 Riley Street,
Surry Hills NSW 2010
(02) 9212 1069