In Short: Capriccio Osteria reminds us that quality Italian cuisine is not lost on Norton Street in Leichhardt. Two outstanding dishes, the Beef Carpaccio and the Squid Ink Pasta, are must-haves. Vegetarians will love the Dutch Carrots.
Returning to Leichhardt is always a nostalgic experience. I first arrived in Sydney in late 1996, and moved into a dingy studio that sat above Parramatta Road just 250 metres from Norton St, Leichhardt. With traffic 24-hours-a-day buzzing below and jumbo jets on final approach screaming overhead, it was quite the introduction to the biggest city in Australia. On weekends though, I would often venture up to Norton Street and over the next 10 years would come to know many of the restaurants on the street of Sydney’s Little Italy. With sky high rents capitalising on the crowds, the bubble was bound to burst, and by 2013 it had truly burst with many of the original famous foodie institutions closing down.
Fast forward to today, and in early 2021, a new generation of young adults are slowly putting back the pieces and bringing back a contemporary, yet relaxed, approach to Italian cuisine. One of those restaurants is Capriccio Osteria. Head Chef Nicole Bampton brings experiences from Tetsuyas and Lucio to the kitchen. Out front, owner and sommelier Michele Rispoli not only ensures your glass is topped up, but is passionate about the menu. The menu draws from the seasonality of the ingredients. As we put this post together, its the season for sweet carrots and tomatoes are bursting with flavour, and so at Capriccio diners will find dishes that reflect the availability of ingredients that are at their prime.
We started our meal with a Virgin Mojito mocktail that even little Sammi could share with us as it is alcohol-free and made with muddled lime, mint , soda, and limonata. The limonata is refreshing without being too sweet and provides a fizz factor to the drink. The citrus flavour is enhanced with the addition of the muddled lime while the mint adds a fresh, bright touch. You know the drink is good when the 3 of us were fighting about who got the last sip!
Capriccio Osteria’s food menu is divided into 3 sections: Starters, Pasta, and Pizza. One thing you will notice is that there is a large selection of starters to choose from. With so many options, sharing is the way to go to. A knockout starter is Capriccio’s Beef Carpaccio. With it’s pastrami-like hue and sliced as thinly, it is unmistakably pure beef. It was just so tender and was combined with a mustard green to give it a light peppery kick, and an anchovy dressing to deliver bags of umami flavour. To contrast the softer texture is the inclusion of bits of crispy potato. It was a very generous and well balanced dish, and a great way to start our meal.
If you are looking for a vegetarian starter, we highly recommend the Roasted Dutch Carrots which, incidentally, is a new item at Capriccio Osteria. Dutch Carrots are actually baby carrots with the green tops still attached and are usually harvested before they reach maturity, which give them a more delicate and sweeter flavour than regular carrots. When the dish was first presented, I was tickled to see beautiful whole carrots with the green tops carefully trimmed. Each carrot was definitely treated with love, care, and respect and quite simply showcases the freshness and quality of the produce. A mound of carrots sit atop a bed of creamy whipped honey feta, tangy salsa verde, and whole-roasted crispy chickpeas. It is this combination that really kicks a goal – that sweet and herbaceous punch with tender carrots just nails it!
No visit to an Italian restaurant is complete without a pasta dish. And, you can tell if you are in a good Italian restaurant by the quality of their pasta, especially if it is hand made; the springy texture and flavour of fresh pasta, make the ingredients and taste more pronounced. There are 5 different kinds of handmade pasta on Capriccio Osteria’s menu, but the most outstanding pasta is their Squid Ink Spaghetti served with blue swimmer crab, chilli, and basil. Why add squid ink to pasta? The truth is, besides giving the pasta a spectacular dark black shine, it also gives the pasta a light briny flavour without being overly fishy. In which case, it is only right to pair it with pieces of blue swimmer crab meat to further enhance those sea flavours. Each morsel of the crab was cooked to perfection; tender and oh so sweet! To add a twist to the dish, finely chopped chilli plus sprigs of basil not only complement the already outstanding flavours, but the chilli also makes your mouth water and keeps you coming back for another mouthful. The fragrance of this dish is just out of this world, transporting you to a seaside location in Italy with its enticing aromas…
Versatility is core at Capriccio Osteria, and so the pizzas are quite awesome too. Our pizza of choice was what Capriccio refers to as the Modena. Instead of a tomato base, Capriccio Osteria used a green pistachio-base pesto, with pieces of ricotta and beautiful rosettes of mortadella sit majestically on top of the pizza. But the highlight of the pizza has to be the wood-fire pizza base that is crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside. Combined with the delicious topping, this is one pizza that we would definitely recommend!
The kids are not forgotten at Capriccio Osteria. Little Coco and Viner Sammi ordered the Fettuccine Bolognese from the kid’s menu. The portion is generous and each strand of the delicious pasta is coated with rich tomato-based mince meat sauce. It is a classic Italian favourite done to perfection. Being a pasta lover (which kid isn’t?!) Sammi definitely enjoyed her lunch and was complete with a ton of renewed energy that we would have to find ways to deplete later that afternoon.
At this point, as you could imagine, we were ready to roll out. Yet Michele was not having any of that, and his hospitality extended to include a decadent Baked Ricotta Cheesecake with chocolate hazelnut ganache. Baked cheesecake is one of my favourite types of dessert so you can imagine my excitement of trying it here. The baked cheesecake is dense but not heavy, creamy but not overly cheesy in flavour. Paired with the lush rich chocolate hazelnut ganache, it is a match made in dessert heaven.
While Norton Street itself may not return to it’s heyday of a by-gone era, I applaud the likes of Michele as they look to restore an Italian shine to this famous stretch of road. I love the restrained, no-fuss approach of Capriccio Osteria, where the food does the talking. With Sydney opening back up again, Capriccio does well on Saturday nights. So, if you are looking to dine there our recommendation is try a late afternoon lunch on Saturday or hit it straight after work on Friday. If you are reading this before February 14, you have now have a new option to impress a loved one!