This article was published in The Newcastle Herald ‘Weekender’ print edition and online on February 1, 2020. Image of my mum’s gnocchi by Mick Ross.
Newcastle is spoilt for choice when it comes to Italian restaurants. Here, we visit five local restaurants serving up delicious authentic Italian fare. Each inspired by the hometowns, families and travels of their food-loving Italian chefs and owners.
Napoli Centrale co-owner and manager Alfonso Muras moved to Australia from Naples in 2009. He opened his popular restaurant on King Street in 2014, naming it Napoli Centrale after the main train station of Naples, a region in southern Italy, and a ’70s band of the same moniker.
“The food is definitely inspired by Naples but is the starting point to a trip around Italy and outside Italy,” Muras says. “Nicola Ferroni is our head chef and works closely with me to source and use the best ingredients we can find that reinterprets the tradition with a modern mindset.”
Traditional wood-fired Neapolitan pizza is the star of the menu but is rounded out by pasta dishes, salads, entrees and desserts. Diners can BYO wine or choose from a range of Italian wines, spirits and digestifs.
Muras says that the margarita pizza is the restaurant’s most popular dish. “But I’m quite attached to a pizza called Pere and prosciutto [pear and prosciutto], which is basically a cheese plate on a pizza!” he says.
“A trip to Napoli Centrale is not complete until you cross the road and finish with a handmade gelato from Popolo Artisan Gelateria, which I also own.”
Napoli Centrale, 173 King Street, Newcastle
Nikki Bondini and her husband Nathan Topic opened Una Volta five years ago. What started as a pop-up Italian restaurant, operating Friday and Saturday nights, soon became something bigger.
“After not too much time we were trading Wednesday to Saturday nights,” Bondini says.
The intimate Italian restaurant serves up a set four-course menu, which changes every four weeks, and is BYO. Some dishes, such as the melanzane fritte (fried eggplant) and gnocchi di patate (potato gnocchi), make repeat appearances due to demand.
Una Volta was inspired by a little trattoria Bondini would visit in Italy. “It was family-run with no printed menu, just a small list of what was cooking that day. The emphasis was on the customers enjoying good, fresh, local rustic food and wine,” she says.
Many influences shape the delicious food served at Una Volta. “Nathan and I spent quite a lot of time in northern Italy, living and cooking in the Dolomites and travelling all the way down to Sicily,” she says.
The Bondini family comes from a northern Italian village, Malonno, in Lombardy. “I think I’m quite influenced by the north in my cooking but I love to cook and eat the food from all of Italy’s regions!,” she says.
Nikki’s sister Alicia, of cakes and sweets business, Sweet Alicia Jayne, also helps in the kitchen at Una Volta. “She has been there right from the very beginning, creating all of our desserts as well as cooking in the restaurant.”
Una Volta, 23 Watt St, 0434 700 257
Arrivederci has long been a fixture at The Junction. “My parents, Riccardo and Tulia Palozzi, bought it about 35 years ago,” says Mary Mcelhinney.
The restaurant has always been a family affair, with members from three generations working there. In recent years, tragedy has struck the Palozzi family. “We have had a lot of loss in the last couple of years,” McElhinney says. “My husband, brother and father died. It all happened in one year,” She now owns and runs Arrivederci.
The recipes her mother passed on to her continue to be made and served at Arrivederci. “Mum loved the restaurant. She wanted to keep it going and carry it on,” McElhinney says.
Their origins traced back to Tulia and Riccardo’s home village of Villavallelonga, in the central Italian region of Abruzzo. The food is traditional, with a menu that includes pizza, pasta and seafood. Homemade gnocchi, lasagna and the Spaghetti al Mondo, a creamy seafood dish, are among Arrivederci’s most popular.
Family continues to be vital: Mary’s daughters, April, Sarah and Natasha, and niece Renee, work with her at Arrivederci.
“We are just a little restaurant,” McElhinney says. “We are very casual and homely. We just want our customers to be comfortable and happy. We welcome new customers and appreciate our old ones.”
Arrivederci, 53 Glebe Road, The Junction. 4963 1036
The Etna on Darby
It’s been 46 years since Sicilian-born brothers Orazio and Mario Marchese opened the first incarnation of The Etna in Hamilton in 1973. While over the years The Etna has moved locations around the city (its longest home being on King Street for 20 years), the ethos of the restaurant has stayed the same.
The Darby Street-based restaurant continues to serve up generous portions of homemade Sicilian-inspired cuisine in a casual atmosphere overseen by owner and chef Orazio Marchese.
Pizza, pasta, seafood and meat are the focus of the menu, The Etna can prepare gluten-free and vegan options.
“The Etna Special (a pasta dish made with prawn, squid, bacon, fresh mushrooms, garlic, and chilli in a creamy sauce) and the Sicilian (pasta made with garlic, king prawns, squid, garlic, chilli and olive oil) are the signature dishes.
His favourite dish? “The Sicilian, as it was one of the first dishes I created back in 1973.”
The Etna, 98 Darby Street, Cooks Hill. 4926 1242
Business partners Andrea Dazzi and Nico Gentile opened Bella Italia (“beautiful Italy”) on Hunter Street in 2019.
“We always dreamed of opening a restaurant together. It’s a good partnership as we decide everything equally,” says Gentile, who is a chef.
While Dazzi hails from Sicily and Gentile from Lake Como, Gentile Bella Italia’s menu does not focus on a single region of Italy. Instead, it brings together a broad selection of classic dishes from the north to the south of Italy, including traditional Italian wood-fired pizzas, pastas, antipasti and desserts.
They also have a substantial vegan menu.
House signature dishes include porchetta (pork belly rolled and stuffed with onion, apple, bacon and herbs) and gnocchi alla boscaiola (creamy gnocchi with mushroom, pancetta, pecorino and truffle paste).
Bella Italia, 545 Hunter Street, Newcastle. 4927 8050