How much can cooking with love affect a dining experience? Let your taste buds decide. A Tavola is an Italian restaurant focusing on the cuisine of the Italian Abruzzo region, and chef Eugenio Maiale prepares simple, elegant dishes, the success of which hinges as much on using quality meats and produce as on cooking with love, precision and intuition.
This approach has worked for centuries in Italy, and A Tavola offers a tiny menu of pitch-perfect dishes that exhibit the old philosophy, ‘less is more’. A Tavola has earned a reputation for serving some of the best pasta in Sydney, and as many a devotee would say, for producing the best pasta in all of Australia.
A Tavola opened in 2007 in Darlinghurst, and in 2013, it opened a second location in Bondi. In Italian, a Tavola means ‘to the table’, and Eugenio grew up eagerly awaiting these words each day. When he was a young boy, he would play outside until his parents yelled, “A Tavola!” Later, he helped his mother and aunts make pasta while his uncle went out to hunt boar. After his uncle’s return, a frenzy of activity in the kitchen ensued—the scents filling the room until Eugenio could hardly bear it. Then, finally, someone would yell: “A Tavola!” He would eat plates of pasta that were always simple, honest, traditional and had the wonderful flavours of home.
Before A Tavola, Eugenio owned three other restaurants in Adelaide, Grimaldis, Citrus and Auge. Each enjoyed some success, but Eugenio wanted to bring his cooking to Sydney, where he found it difficult to find a delicious yet well-priced bowl of Italian pasta. He knew that he could fill this gap in the dining scene.
The heart and soul of A Tavola is a long communal table in the centre of the dining room. It is here that, on a daily basis, the chefs roll out their egg-yolk-yellow sheets of pasta, whether bucatini, spaghetti or rigatoni. The result is light, silky, perfectly textured pasta ideal for absorbing the enticing flavours of A Tavola’s olive oils, ragus and herbs.
The signature dish is Pappardelle con Ragu di Manzo, a plate of wide pappardelle noodles with a rich, thick beef ragu. Each region in Italy has its own style of making ragu, and so perhaps it’s fair to say that Eugenio’s is the ragu of Sydney thanks to the use of farm-fresh ingredients. Eugenio gets his extra virgin olive oil from The Little General; pine and grey ghost mushrooms from the Blue Mountains; heirloom tomatoes, fennel, and more from Liverpool; fresh oysters from Merimbula; and goat and lamb from Wagga.
Additionally, the menu offers A Tavola’s famous Olive all `Ascolana, which are plump, meat-stuffed green olives that are breaded and pan-fried in olive oil, and such vegetable dishes as sautéed Swiss brown mushrooms with green peas, mint and ricotta salata. For dessert, if on offer, make sure to sample the decadent Cremino al Cioccolato, a cup of rich chocolate cream with salted caramel gelato and meringue. The menu, which typically consists of around twelve dishes, changes daily. “Pace yourself: Sydney has it all,” says Eugenio.