In Short: At Machiavelli, come for the atmosphere and people-watching, but stay for the impeccable service and equally impeccable, quality Italian food.
I can still recall, with the sweet taste of pasta sauce on my lips, my first visit to a real Italian restaurant. It was in Rome, metres from the infamous Spanish Steps. I was in my early 20’s on my first European adventure; I’d waited for so long to get to Italy, the home country of my family and heritage, and finally I was here…making my way down a staircase and into the alcove of the restaurant. The place had a tangible, palpable atmosphere. The waiters in their sharp attire; black ties, white shirts, black vests and long black aprons, were practically gliding from table to kitchen with a quiet busyness. The familiar smells of tomato, garlic, wine, and bread filled the air, and in the corner a man with a fisarmonica played familiar old Italian tunes. I felt like I was in one of those old Italian movies I’d watched as a little girl with my dad, and I was loving every minute of it!
As I made my way down a similar looking set of stairs, off Clarence Street in Sydney’s CBD and into the entryway of the institution that is Machiavelli, I felt like I had instantly stepped back to that night in Rome. We were greeted by sharply dressed waiters, I could even hear some of them chatting in Italian, and we were whisked to a table under the arches and into the centre of the room. It was just before the Friday lunch-time corporate crowd were ready to hit the surrounding tables and we could instantly see why this has been such a main-stay for the ‘suits’ that have graced these tables for decades. And while most people head here to people watch and rub shoulders with the ‘important’ people, we were definitely here for the food.
We were lucky to have a moment to sit and chat with our host Rosanna, and talk about the history of the restaurant and what was now in store under the new owner Nicholae Bicher. We were told we were in for a treat, as Executive Chef Laurent Cambon, who has been working with Machiavelli for around 17 years and was called back to head the kitchen by Nicholae, was preparing a small degustation menu, especially for us, so that we could sample some of the best, the menu had to offer. Fellow Coco and Viner Sacha and I had been eagerly anticipating this visit, and now we couldn’t wait for what was ahead under the expert hands of Chef and our waiter Simone!
We start our Italian food passeggiata with a set of appetisers. First out is the seafood carpaccio. Beautifully fresh salmon and kingfish, topped with dill, pomegranate and capers and delicately drizzled with olive oil and lemon dressing were served with crostini and were such a wonderful showcase of what real Italian cuisine is all about – simple, quality ingredients done well.
Next we try the Canadian scallops wrapped in speck, with deliciously creamy cauliflower sauce. While it looked decadent, it was wonderfully light and the scallops expertly cooked so they were moist and practically melted in your mouth.
We ended the appetiser trio with one of my favourite entrees, the fiori di zucchini fritti. Who would have thought that zucchini flowers would be such a mainstay of Italian menus everywhere? At Machiavelli, the flowers are stuffed with an impossibly creamy ricotta, lightly battered and served with tomato concasse and balsamic glaze. Delicious and perfect.
As with many of the dishes, Executive Chef Laurent has infused Italian classics with a little bit of French flair and the results are distinctly sophisticated meals. And so our passeggiata continues on to the mains with the gnocchi gorgonzola. If I ever had to have a ‘last meal’ it would be my mum’s gnocchi. But now, I may have to add Machiavelli’s to the list as these were the most amazing melt-in-your-mouth potato dumplings Sacha and I had ever tasted! The distinct taste of the cheesy Gorgonzola always make this a wonderful combination and the unique addition of sliced pear added a sweetness that offset the savory in a truly unique way. And, for all the heaviness that is typically associated with this dish – it was quite the opposite! Compliments to the sous chef, young and upcoming Domenico (who hails from Calabria), who we’re told is behind this gnocchi perfection.
No sooner had we mopped up all that cheesy goodness with fresh bread, we were delighted to greeted by the owner, Nicholae, who had spent the night at the CEO Sleepout and was heading home to get some sleep, but wanted to ensure we were being looked after! No sooner had the words left his mouth, Simone our very attentive and knowledgeable waiter, arrived with the stuffed ravioli. Topped with grilled snapper and scampi, in a cherry tomato sauce, this was a dish with so much attention to detail (as all the meals were!). Everything had been given thought, from the small little balls of zucchini and carrot, to the sweet tomato sauce. The ravioli were impossibly thin, delicate and exquisite – this was a dish like no other.
As we both took a breath and wondered whether we could fit another thing in, Chef anticipated our sated appetites but didn’t want us to miss out on dessert. So, he pulled up a chair and we got the special pleasure of chatting to him about the menu and his passion for food. Executive Chef Laurent talked of his inspiration behind his dishes, that not only comes from ingredients in season but that also comes from other chefs he has worked with over the years. His long history of working at Machiavelli means he knows his clientele intimately, and knows what works well together. As he was with us, he likes to be one step ahead of his guests, evolving and changing, without breaking the format but allowing for those small details, those little additions, that elevate the dish. Chef is now more involved with the business and the daily specials allows him the creative licence to experiment and introduce new dishes while still maintaining the traditional, well thought out, fare.
As Chef is called back into the kitchen, our desserts arrive. An absolutely delicious lemon tart dressed with blueberries, raspberries, and roasted meringue kisses. This is elegant, not over done and super light, a slight tartness from lemon, offset by the sweetness and crunch of the meringues and the soft biscuit base, all drizzled in a glaze of custard.
The Trio of Profiteroles with a rich cream and coffee centre topped with fresh raspberry, dusted in icing sugar and served with a berry coulis. These small, bite-size portions with their crispy shell were not too sweet and had a lovely tartness from coulis. A fantastic way to finish off our meal!
The team at Machiavelli have a winning formula, that keeps their famous and corporate clientele coming back over and over again. We were truly spoilt by Executive Chef Laurent, Rosanna and Simone, with the same welcoming, sophisticated hospitality that all their guests experience whether they are there for lunch or dinner. But, you don’t need to be an executive from the glass towers or the government world to enjoy the incredible food and service here. But, if you must, find your best suit and just get down here and experience a little bit of genuine Italy in the heart of Sydney.
* Coco and Vine dined as guests of Machiavelli and Australian Good Food Guide (AGFG).