Pushing the boundaries of traditional Italian, gnocchi yourself out at Piccolino
Piccolino Pizza & Gnocchi Bar is the younger, more adventurous sibling to Mr Piccolo, the first independent venture from owner Anthony Lo Piccolo over in Kensington.
A bold exterior of yellow and white candy striped branding indicated we had arrived at our destination. Walking through the entrance we were welcomed by none other than Anthony Lo Piccolo, or AJ as he introduces himself. The somewhat daring theme continues inside with a feature wall comprised of a nine metre-long handprinted mural of iconic Italian-inspired art and national landmarks. The mural was drawn by a friend of AJ’s and painted by artist Melinda McGough. Sitting opposite, I happily notice new drawings over the course of the evening. Among the icons are Michelangelo, the Colosseum, a Vespa, the leaning tower of Pisa, and Venice’s Rialto Bridge with a gondola, to name a few.
It’s a small space but used wisely. A bar by the door churns out coffees or wine, whichever the demand. We see four wines available on tap, via TAP Wines, offering a little traditional and little exploration. Otherwise it’s BYO; a nice touch to keep the food in their hands and the wine in yours.
The cured meats and dough pockets are a fantastic way to start; pair the platter with a glass of Prosecco and you’re laughing. As explained by AJ, the dough pockets are likened to a doughnut but replace the sugar with salt. The dough was salted just so, and we were advised to wrap the light, fluffy pockets with the meats – prosciutto, ham and salami. Our moods were noticeably elevated following these salty, meaty dough delights.
Now the guys at Piccolino know their gnocchi, and provide the option of four different variations as a base: traditional potato, pumpkin, beetroot or ricotta. Each style is cut differently, for example the pumpkin gnocchi is triangular in shape, adding to the individuality of the restaurant. We then select our toppings and are torn between a bunch of delicious options. Creamy mushroom with truffle oil; cultured butter and vegan feta with walnuts and preserved orange zest; or burnt butter and sage with goats cheese and pine nuts?
Those that are vegan or vegetarian can happily dine here, for two gnocchi base options are vegan (pumpkin and beetroot – yum!) and there are options for toppings, too. It was head chef Joel Murry Steel’s choice to keep the potato gnocchi as non-vegan, allowing it to be true to its original flavours. We were reassured that all bases would pair with all toppings, so we chose the beetroot gnocchi with creamy mushroom sauce. The pasta arrived a brilliant, vivid shade of pink, and was light, fluffy, with a slight crisp texture. A table outside Piccolino is adorned with the lettering, “gnocchi; soft, fluffy pillows of goodness. Hard to say no to,” and it couldn’t be more true.
Of course, there are traditional options on the menu (find these under ‘traditional sh#te’), such as cappricciosa pizza with fresh Napoli, mozzarella, leg ham, artichoke hearts, wild mushrooms and olives; and a dedicated vegetarian section that includes the eggplant parma and ‘Garden Party’ (vegan), a beetroot infused pizza base with the garden’s best seasonal marinated and pickled vegetables.
Piccolino’s signature savoury dish is a play on traditional spaghetti meatballs: ‘Spag Bowl’. In line with the restaurant’s concept of pushing the boundaries of conventional Italian fare, this dish is your classic spaghetti meatballs with delicious Napoli sauce and freshly made meatballs, however it is served up in a literal, edible bowl of pizza dough. This fun version of a classic is both tasty and great for your Instagram feed, both highly sought after today.
If you haven’t saved room for dessert, shame on you. Piccolino pastry chef and general manger Alissa Bressanutti has teamed up with ‘pizzaiolo’ chef Cristian Locolla to craft sweet pizza desserts. Bressanutti has a massive sweet tooth, which is evident in our choice of house made sticky date pudding soaked in butterscotch with candied stalactite whole dates, draped with fairy floss and served with vanilla bean ice cream. Delicious, great for the ‘Gram, and the dessert signature – helping spearhead the restaurant’s classic dishes turned on their heads vibe.
There will always be a place for pizza, whether we whip it up at home or order in from the local pizzeria. However, when you want to explore the boundaries of the traditional, this is your destination for delicious variations of gnocchi, not so easily prepared chez moi, and twisted dishes worth capturing. Get snapping.