Much has changed at popular Italian restaurant Popolo, but thankfully not in it’s infectiously laid-back atmosphere; it’s still got that same piazza-style cool about it, offering an incredibly relaxing dining experience that flows throughout the outdoor and indoor dining areas. Established as one of the most popular restaurants in the area, now three years into business, Popolo has switched things up with a little refurbishment, assisted by developments at the Advanx Precinct – in which Popolo stands – which have doubled the size of the courtyard that overlooks the restaurant; the biggest change has been in the kitchen, appointing ex-Pilu At Freshwater and Biota Dining chef Naomi Lowry to lead the food offerings.
This new direction has given the bar menu a swift makeover, making it just as viable an option for a meal and a drink for those needing a quick fix. Seating at the bar is inviting, and gives you more of a chance to check out the piles of Italian produce they have lined around the bar, all of which are available for purchase. When I pulled up to the bar, there was a massive leg of prosciutto sitting in front of me, sourced from Chef favourite De Palma Salumi in Padstow; much of the meat had already been cut from the bone and served fresh to the many diners dotting the moody corners of the restaurant.
The bar menu is simple and changes regularly to reflect the best produce. Lowry has a reputation for creativity, and she packs the options here full of interesting flavours and textures, focusing on natural, complementary flavours. This is best shown in the ‘Daily Small Plates’ section of the menu, which on my visit brought the option of a Bonito Carpaccio with intensely rich ruby grapefruit, celery, and slightly crunchy squid ink chips. The pleasant umami taste of the lightly seared fish paired up well with everything on the plate, especially vital on the excessively humid day.
Also on offer is a daily-changing Spiedo (grilled skewers) and fish was once again the catch of the day for me, but this time it was nice, chunky marlin, grilled along with fresh tomatoes for a beautiful, meaty taste balanced by the sweetness of the juicy tomatoes.
There are a range of cured meats available, best part of a mixed platter, and served up with some wood-fired focaccia, olives, almonds, and a strong, sweet Negroni to complete the picture.
Of course, if there’s no rush to leave then a further dig into Popolo’s dining options would be a smart move. Moving onto the main menu you’d find over 10 gourmet pizza options, but solo diners should pay attention to the pastas, like the fantastic Fregola ($27/$35) (headline image), which is unlike most, with a beautiful couscous-like texture, firm and coated with much flavour thanks to a white wine braised lamb ragu, broad beans, and incredibly rich pecorino. Avoid this if you aren’t one for a lot of cheese, but for the rest of us, this is clear stand-out and enough to turn a casual diner into a regular.
Dessert is a must, and the honey & almond Semifreddo ($16) is heavenly, sweet and dotted with almond praline, smooth in texture and balanced with a pleasant, lingering honeycomb taste. Each dessert option comes with a dessert wine recommendation, and it’d be wise to pay a bit extra to pay heed; with the semifreddo it was a light, airy 2013 Caruso & Minini Tagos. Also available in the dolci section is a tempting Dark Chocolate Ganache with cherries, olive oil, and sea salt, a Vanilla Panna Cotta with poached peach and presecco jelly, and a Crostata with Ameretti crust, ricotta & yoghurt cream, and poached berries.
Address: 50 McLachlan Avenue, Rushcutters Bay 2011
Contact: 02 9361 6641
Hours: Dinner 6pm Tuesday-Sunday; Lunch from 12pm Friday – Sunday; Breakfast from 8am Saturday and Sunday.