The ‘humble peasant’ of Italian fine foods

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Antipasto platter… quality through and through, we adored every element. Photo: Wendy Johnson.

“At Italian Brothers, John-Paul has ‘replicated’ a small store in a tiny, old-fashioned village he fell in love with during a year in sun-baked Calabria… gathering place, café, coffee shop, wine bar, deli and general store,” writes dining reviewer WENDY JOHNSON.

JOHN-PAUL Romano describes himself as “owner and humble peasant” of Italian Brothers, the newish fine-foods establishment and wine bar nestled in the middle of Manuka Arcade.

Wendy Johnson.

On our visit he was dressed smartly in a crisp white shirt, light grey pants and polished black shoes – with a bright apron featuring a map of Italy.

At Italian Brothers, John-Paul has “replicated” a small store in a tiny, old-fashioned village that he fell in love with during a year in sun-baked Calabria. The store was central to its community – gathering place, café, coffee shop, wine bar, deli and general store.

Hanging out at the store inspired John-Paul to open something similar once he returned home to Australia. He’s done just that.

We popped by to enjoy a glass of wine and a specialty antipasto platter ($45), and what a platter it was (indeed, one of the most fascinating we’ve had in yonks).

Fresh bread… baked daily in Ainslie. Photo: Wendy Johnson.

The ingredients, sourced from Australia, Italy, the UK and other spots, were quality through and through. Think (in no particular order because we adored every element on the platter) earthy truffle salami, goats cheese, green olives, stuffed bell peppers, pistachios, chilli mortadella, smoked sun-dried tomatoes, and more. Loads of bread accompanied the platter, baked fresh every day in Ainslie.

It is a generous platter for $45 and could easily be shared by more than two. We took our time, over a couple of glasses of pinot grigio, and enjoyed every bite, feeling pretty cosy on a small table in the arcade itself, watching the world walk by.

In addition to the antipasto, Italian Brothers offers biscotti, panini and other goodies, all proudly lined up in cabinets. Beer and cocktails are also available.

You order inside (with a fireplace flickering on a big-screen TV) and can sit in the arcade (about 10 seats) or on one of the six or so stools inside.

After the platter, we decided to do a bit of shopping… why not? The shop is a foodie’s delight and packed to the rafters with oodles of quality Italian and other tinned, packaged, bottled and fresh fine food – far, far too many to list. 

The shop is packed to the rafters with quality Italian and other tinned, packaged, bottled and fresh fine food. Photo: Wendy Johnson.

Shop for gorgeous flour, premium dried pasta (including some organic), spicy hot cream peppers, mixed bush mushrooms, eggplant strips, every kind of bean imaginable, pasta sauces, sardines, preserved lemons, cheeses, desserts, wines… the list goes on (and on).

Italian Brothers truly is Manuka’s fine-food destination. Takeaway is also available. Open seven days from 8am and, during these crazy COVID-19 times, remains open until there aren’t any more customers.

Italian Brothers. Shop 2, Manuka Arcade, Franklin Street, Manuka.

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Wendy Johnson
Wendy Johnson: Food reviewer for Canberra CityNews magazine since 2004, covering stories for true foodies to digest.

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