Dining reviewer WENDY JOHNSON reveals her list of Canberra’s top five restaurants for 2017.
NAMES of restaurants fascinate me. The story behind Agostinis, the hip Italian restaurant now open in East Hotel, makes your heart pitter patter.
Siblings Dan and Dion Bisa decided on the name and then discovered, through mother Marisa, that the family had many years ago operated a restaurant in Italy called Agostinis. Some things are just meant to be.
We started our journey with antipasti dishes, perking up our palette with salt and vinegar potato chips, made fresh daily ($5). They’re ultra-thin, uber crispy and totally delightful. You’re in the driver’s seat with the vinegar. It comes in a small spray bottle and you squirt as much as you like. Be warned. These little numbers are addictive.
Slow cooking is an Italian art and Agostinis’ 15-member kitchen team, operating under the charming Romano chef Francesco (Frankie) Balestrieri, has mastered the process. The slow-cooked, melt-in-the-mouth octopus ($16) was one of the best octopus dishes I’ve had in yonks. It’s beautifully presented and packed with flavour.
Equally delicious was the calamari ($15), dished up with a creamy aioli, even more special because it’s created with grilled lemon and fresh mint.
Frankie also makes his own olives, for sale at the “store”. You can also buy luxurious olive oil, special pizza spice mix, a stunning wood chopping board and a funky burlap tote featuring a graphic of luscious pink Italian lips.
So much at Agostinis is handmade, including all pastas, such as the classic spaghetti al pomodoro e basilica ($18). It’s such a simple and trustworthy dish. Who can go wrong with quality tomatoes, aromatic basil and garlic – made with love, of course?
The soul satisfying, tube-shaped pasta is another winner. Italian pork marries well with fennel and the chilli sausage provides lovely heat. It’s all combined with a rich sugo. You won’t leave a morsel on your plate.
The grand, gold-domed pizza oven – the first in Canberra – took two days to install. It looks like a giant igloo and can whip out 16 pizzas at lightning speed (four minutes to be exact). That includes a one-metre pizza, for those who dare.
The wine list is its own story. “Beppo’s Blend”, named after Dan and Dion’s grandfather, is created solely for Agostinis by Ravensworth Wines using three Italian varietals – Barbera, Nebbiolo and Sangiovese ($65 a bottle).
Also its own story is the playful, colourful and inviting fitout. You’ll see what I mean when you check out Agostinis.
At East Hotel, Joe’s Bar is now truly a “bar” once more, opening at 4pm. The gorgeous outdoor area at Agostinis is not designed as a bar, but rather a comfy spot to enjoy drink and food. It closes at 3pm.
Agostinis, East Hotel, 69 Canberra Avenue, Kingston, open seven days. Call 6178 0048.
Photos by MADDIE McGUIGAN