If you haven’t heard by now the family behind Assaggio Restaurante has sadly declared that it is time to close the doors on the beloved dining venue. Adelaide Food Central was invited to say goodbye and we had such a fabulous meal it’s now even harder to see it go.
I’m not going to mention that the meat and pasta in each dish is perfectly cooked. This is Assaggio and it goes without saying. They have become one of the most consistent and popular and revered restaurants in South Australia by cooking sublime food and doing it perfectly every time. Each dish we had today was sensational. As we worked our way through a very long lunch I used every superlative I know.
I started the day with a little skip in my step hoping that zucchini flowers that I have had many times would be on the menu today. I am delighted to report that they are. The romantic lemony ricotta bursts out of the delicate battered flower when cut and I am so pleased they are a wonderful as they were when I first enjoyed them so many years ago. The other components of the dish may have changed, the current plating of Fiori di Zucca comprises of a Mediterranean style salad of roasted eggplant and capsicum with capers and salsa verde.
In contrast to the zucchini flowers I have long craved we moved on to a dish that I overlooked when reading the menu and only ordered at the suggestion of our server. The Agugli Involtini however, was my favourite starter due to its unique coupling of flavours. My first taste was of the smoked pork broth that pooled around the fish. It was deep in flavour and unmistakably smoky. A ribbon of blanched zucchini that retained its bite contrasts against the fragile garfish fillets it is rolled with to create a cup that holds caper spiked risoni. Ever so sophisticated and a little unusual I very much enjoyed this creation.
Hidden under a nest of crispy sweet potato strands are plump, pillowy scallops swaddled in pancetta. For me the best part of the Capesante starter was the roughly pureed charred sweet corn that carried a robust corn flavour. Corn, scallops and bacon are a classic combination and this refined and elegant composition shows how fabulous it can be.
We determined that the Pulpo is very much like a gourmet potato salad and on a hot summery day it was heavenly. A mound of crushed potato is punctuated with hickory smoked aioli, cured egg, and spring onion, then decorated by gorgeous leaves of pickled onion and celery. Tiny bites of South Australian Octopus tentacle posses and earthy char and delicate texture.
Our final starter was a real surprise package. The Gnocchi Romano reads on the menu like a hundred gnocchi’s I’ve had before; Tomato sugo, Fior di latte, heirloom cherry tomato and basil. Perhaps the give away that this would be more special inclusion of ‘Roman Style’ baked semolina in which the product is a large disc as opposed to traditional bit sized gnocchi. Delicious as it was this dish for me was all about the texture. Our single disc of semolina was velvety and creamy, the melting slice of cheese added even more creamy decadence that led to a luscious mouth feel that lingered.
Moving on to the pasta dishes we simply had to try the Tagliarini Con Granchio – easily one of the best crab pastas I have ever had. The crab meat is very finely shredded so that it becomes a part of the sauce rather than an addition to it and there are sufficient amounts to coat each strand of thin pasta rather than just a token pile on top. The ever so delicate the sauce is lifted with the finest chopped herbs and a hint of chilli.
The second pasta we chose was Cavatelle Con Ragu Manzo, a rich sauce of braised beef cheek bearing large chunks of meat. The cavatelle is hand made by Nonna at home and is designed to trap some sauce in its hollow which it cleverly does ensuring each piece is saucy and rich. Shaved truffle parmesan and a few fresh leaves of oregano go far to add dimension and varied flavour.
If pork belly is on a menu I consider it a must have. The pork in the Pancetta Di Maiale has been sourced from the Murray Valley and has a robust, rich pork flavour. It has been slow cooked in spiced duck fat and I’m sure this helps in building up that incredible depth. An immaculate crackling is a little difficult to manage with a knife and fork. I end up just picking it up and biting it and I’m rewarded with a loud crack. The magnificent accompaniment to the pork is soft semolina that is reminiscent of gnocchi entrée that I fell in love with earlier and a couple of strands of cavalo nero which always pairs so well with pork. To round everything together is a pear and semi dried capsicum relish that adds a touch of heat and sweetness with its classic intense flavour.
Having long been a fan of the duck at Assaggio the Anatra was an easy selection to make, This time quite a difference from the Maryland of L’Orange that it once was, today we have a honey glazed spice duck breast. I warn those who do not like a sweet main course to stay away from this one. But for those, who like me adore a sticky plate of lemon chicken or honey prawn this is right up your alley. The breast of duck is well spiced but it is the sweetness of honey that dominates. Next to the duck is a sliced caramelized pear that could easily sit on a dessert plate. Event the beans have a hazelnut crumb that tows the line between sweet and savory. Simple bitter leaves of bitter witlof provide refreshing respite from the sweetness.
The Agnello Groppa was a surprisingly Middle Eastern inspired dish, quite a change from this kitchen but as always refined, sophisticated and utterly delicious. I’m going to go so far as say it was my favourite of the day because of how well each component brought something fabulous to the dish. Spread across the plate is a delectably smooth mousse of eggplant with strong notes of cumin. Slices of blushing lamb are adorned with heirloom carrots in purple, orange and yellow and a salsa verde pungent with parsley, mint, lemon, garlic and olive oil dresses the plate. The addition of whipped goats cheese is exactly what the dish calls for, it adds a lively punch to the earthy elements.
When it came to dessert time I was a little taken aback to note the Tiramisu was missing, in favour of more skilled and sophisticated offerings. There are 4 desserts on the menu as well as a trio of seasonal sorbet and biscotti for those who want something small. We could only fit in 3 of the 4 and started with the Sbriclolata Di Mele; a deconstructed spiced apple and quince crumble. The crumb carries distinct notes of amaretto that ties in so well with the fruits. A scoop of vanilla bean icecream is dotted with black vanilla seeds and a sphere of spun sugar adds glamour. There is a surprising addition of pickled grape that are quite sour, a skillful showcase of how savoury elements can work on a sweet plate.
Along the same vein is the Pannacotta infused with pink peppercorn. Admittedly very subtle, the savory note was there. Served in a glass, perhaps because it is softer than the average pannacotta, the hint of peppercorn teams with roasted strawberries and a sweet intense strawberry coulis.
Next up is the chocolate lover’s dessert Semi Freddo, which combines 3 of my favourite dessert elements – chocolate, raspberry and hazelnut. What you can’t see in the photo is a core of vibrant raspberry fudge through the heart of the decadent chocolate semi freddo. A disc of hazelnut praline caps the dessert hiding the excitement below. I adored the rich indulgence of this dish and the praline acts to break it up slightly.
For me, Assaggio Ristorante has always been a place to go to celebrate; an anniversary, graduation or birthday. If you don’t have any of these coming up then I’d suggest that returning to Assaggio for a final meal is reason enough. How long Assaggio will be open is uncertain – it depends on the terms of the sale. What we do know is that they will be open until Christmas so act fast and book now.
Words by Kate Wilkinson
WHERE: 92-94 King William Rd, Hyde Park