There is no denying that Italy is a food lover’s paradise. The culture and the cuisine can send a visiting foodie into fits of whatever the hell it is that makes a foodie uscire di senno (lose your head); this is where a joint like Italian Street Kitchen comes into play, an “over the bridge” hub of traditional, generous dining.
When your main aim is to enjoy a good plate of decent, no-fuss Italian cuisine, this Neutral Bay gem is perfetto, particularly for those with families to feed and a day of work to be rid of. Because Italian Street Kitchen is the ideal antidote to no-nonsense dining, and loses none of the flavour of the cuisine, or the service of a good quality restaurant. It’s in keeping with an establishment that prides itself on delivering the essence of a solid dining experience.
Italian Street Kitchen is filled with families with school-aged children, older groups of couples enjoying a easy dinner, a younger crowd catching up after a busy day. There’s a buzz in the air, and it’s definitely buzzing for a mid-week dinner.
The restaurant’s website proudly proclaims, “we’re a market stall on a grand scale”, and that’s exactly what it feels like. A place with lively chatter, a busy floor with attentive staff, and not a kitschy piece of décor in sight.
On arrival, you are seated at a table, but you will order at the front counter. Towards the back of the restaurant is the open kitchen, which again helps to remove the idea of a “sacred working space” between food preparation and eating area. Chefs and cooks are visible from the dining room, and you can hear, smell and see the activity in the kitchen. The buzz on a weekday evening is strong – at 6:45pm, the place is packed, and you know it’s dinner time.
The prices are reasonable for a restaurant of this quality, which suits those looking for good fare at a sensible price. There are a range of options to choose from, whether you want a big meal with all three servings, or looking to build a share plate dinner with your group. The Antipasto menu starts from $3.50 for an Arancini Ball, made with roasted pumpkin, smoked provolone, parmesan cheese, thyme and panko crumb. They’re quite substantial as starters, but for those that want something more, try the classic Meatballs ($11). Made in-house, they come in either chicken, beef or pork and they’re served with rich, garlic-infused Napoli sauce, best eaten with fluffy homemade focaccia to mop the sauce up with.
Like the starters, there are a variety of mains to choose from, and include options from the spit roast section, the pizza section or the pasta section. In an effort to deduce just how traditional the menu really is, we opted for the Fettucine Carbonara ($16), hoping it wasn’t going to be just like any other Italian restaurant. The sauce, thankfully, was made with an egg yolk sauce, flavoured with pecorino cheese and garlic, and served with a sprinkling of cured pork cheek portions. The pasta is cooked al dente and the hint of pepper is enough to lift the dish – a prime example of simple cooking done really well. For those wanting more than a pasta meal, definitely try the wood-fired Roman Style Pork Belly ($19). This is definitely a dish you can keep coming back for. The meat is tender with just enough fat left on for the juicy-ness factor, and the rosemary gives the dish an extra kick. The crackling is what will draw most people, and it’s definitely worth ordering.
Italian Street Kitchen‘s strength lies in their ability to offer hearty, authentic Italian dishes that aren’t overdone or overpriced, and their fuss-free desserts are made in the same way. A rather rustic Tiramisu ($11.50) plate arrives at our table, a grungy dessert block made with espresso-dipped savoiardi (ladyfinger) biscuits, marsala and mascarpone cream. It’s not fancy, but it’s exactly what you need from a tiramisu dish – creamy, with the right amount of each layer so that the biscuit layers don’t take away from the cream layers . For chocolate lovers, A must-try is the Nutella-filled Calzone ($9), a massive portion made with pizza dough, and served with vanilla gelato. It’s indeed huge, so beware!
At 8pm on a weekday evening, there are still a hell of a lot of people, a good sign for a local diner in a relatively busy part of Neutral Bay. While many places come and go on this strip, you get the feeling that Italian Street Kitchen will be here for a while. Their simple approach to dining, cuisine and service make the whole experience an easy night, one where the focus is on the food you’re eating, and the people you’re eating it with.
Italian Street Kitchen
Address: 5/19-21 Grosvenor St, Neutral Bay, 2089
Contact: 02 9953 5888
Hours: Mon – Thurs 11.30am – 9.30pm | Fri 11.30am – 10pm | Sat 9am – 10pm | Sun 9am – 9.30pm