Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Bucci - The Italians invade James Street

I never really thought of Brisbane having a big Italian population or having a large number of Italian restaurants, but I've had to revise my thinking.  While we are not in the same league as Melbourne when it comes to Italian dining spots, they have over eleven hundred, Brisbane has almost three hundred, which is way more than I would have expected.

I've walked by Bucci so many times I have lost count.  It's on the way from my usual fresh food shopping spot at James Street.  Yeah, I know that you're questioning whether I eat at home, but I occasionally do and it's with fresh food from the Standard at James Street.  So, walking by Bucci early on a Saturday morning a heap of times has piqued my interest quite a bit but it wasn't until a few months that I saw how insane the restaurant can get in the evenings.

During the week I felt like some pasta or risotto, so I booked us in for a 6:30 sitting for dinner and neglected to tell SC what time dinner was, thinking she would easily be home in time.  As the clock started to tick towards 6:15 I started to get a bit nervous about our booking and after texting to check how she was going. As I started to call the restaurant to change the booking time, SC walked through the front door and I could immediately tell it had been a hectic day at work.  With some gentle urging, SC changed in record time (for a girl) and we were off to Bucci and just made our booked time.  I love living in the city!

Bucci has not been open long, it opened its very large doors on busy James Street in March last year and is the sister restaurant of Bucci in Port Douglas.  Shaun Malone was the head chef of Bucci Port Douglas before moving to Brisbane to open up Bucci in James Street.  It's a joint venture with Bucci Port Douglas executive chef Spencer Patrick and while there are a number of other partners involved in the James Street eatery, its very much run by Shaun and wife Tanja, who doubles as the General Manager.  Shaun has an interesting background and has worked in some of the country's best restaurants including Vue De Monde, Il Centro and River Canteen.  Shaun has even done a stint overseas, helping out Tetsuya Wakuda open up his Knightsbridge restaurant MJU.

We arrived at Bucci right on time and were taken to our table and given a drinks menu to peruse but the waitress had not got far before SC had grabbed her and ordered a glass of wine.  A short while later we had our menus brought over to us and in an unusual turn of events were completely over serviced when another waitress came over to take our orders.  After explaining that we had only just received our menus and had not in fact opened them yet, got an assurance that she would be back soon to take our orders.

Looking over the Bucci menu we could see that there was a pretty decent range of options that were a fairly even mix contemporary and classic Italian dishes.  There was a good range of assaggini or share plates as well as a special list of salumi or dried and cured meats which looked interesting.  It was then onto a very traditional primi pasta and secondi mains that when ordered in unison signify that an Italian feast is about to begin.  We were not in the mood for a feast so we just ordered some starters to share as well as a main each.

To start off with our share plates the arancini poccoli arrived which were six bite sized risotto balls with pea and mozzarella with lemon aioli and smoked pancetta salt.  These had come recommended by a friend and really lived up to the high recommendation.  The arancini balls were presented creatively in a little garden pot and were wonderfully golden brown and crispy on the outside and retained their moisture on the inside, with sticky mozzarella and a hint of pea flavour.  They really came alive when you smeared them in the lemon aioli and then sprinkled the smoked pancetta salt over the top.  They were quite delicious and only having three each was a bit of a problem, lucky there was a lot more food on the table.   

Also delivered at the same time and looking fabulous in a very simple bowl were the polpette e pomodoro or Nonna Bucci's meatballs in braised tomato sauce with shaved pecorino.  There is not a lot of ways to elegantly plate meatballs so just having them piled up on a shallow bowl was as good as any.  There were five reasonably large meatballs covered in tomato sauce and cheese that was slowly going gooey.  The meatballs themselves appeared to be a veal and beef mix, although I can't be sure and were moist and really quite yummy.  The tomato sauce was not overly powerful but it did have a little bit of an edge to it that left a tangy feeling on the palate.  I really enjoyed the meatballs although there was quite a bit of food on the plate and they were quite filling.

Last of our share plates was the carpaccio di manzo, sliced of aged black Angus beef fillet with evoo, garlic crisps, hot truffle pecorino with herbs and lemon.  The carpaccio was sliced just right and was very thin but not quite translucent.  It was incredibly tender, so tender in fact that a fork could not hold the beef and it kept falling off.  There was some nice texture with the addition of the garlic crisps which had the pungent garlic flavour cooked out of them and left just a hint of garlic behind.  The carpaccio was really nice with the lemon drizzled over the top and probably didn't need the hot truffle pecorino.  There was a lot of the hot truffle pecorino in a big bowl on the side of the beef and you needed to eat a lot of it to get the truffle flavour.  I'm not entirely sure how you were supposed to eat this dish, did you dip the carpaccio in the cheese? or did you pour the cheese over the carpaccio?  As it was the beef stood up on its own and we left most of the truffle pecorino.

There had been quite a lot of food with the three starters and we were feeling quire full.  Shortly after our plates had been taken away our waitress came over to ask if we were ready for our mains.  Of course we replied that we needed some time to let the starters settle.  I'm not sure we have the same definition of some time as our mains arrived about five minutes later, and to be truthful it was way too soon.

Knowing how big serving sizes can be in most Italian restaurants, SC had ordered the entree sized linguini al granchio - linguini of local spanner crab with chilli, parsley and lemon.  Even though it was the entree sized pasta, it was still very large and SC wondered how she would get through it all, especially given that our starters had not settled.  The dish itself was quite fresh looking with lots of spanner crab interspersed with well cooked fresh pasta and chilli bits.  There was a strong garlic flavour in the dish which was stronger than the chilli which was quite subtle and didn't over power the crab.  The problem with eating a dish, any dish, when you are full is that it's hard to eat and this was the case here.   About halfway through SC gave up the ghost and could not eat any more. 

I didn't really feel like pasta and wanted to check out the risotto of the day, which was risotto with crispy pork belly, fried sage, lemon and herbs.  I'd never seen a risotto with crispy pork belly and thought I would give it a go.  When it was delivered there was a couple of slices of crispy pork belly sitting atop of the pale risotto.  I'm in two minds about this dish, it was really two dishes in one, with the pork belly not really being a part of the risotto and in fact for me it didn't work.  I really enjoyed the pork belly and a whole plate of the pork on it's own with a nice sauce would have been brilliant.  The risotto itself suffered from an abundance of lemon, which was the predominant flavour and quite overpowered the whole dish.  Again, I'm not sure how I would have fared if I was not so full from the starters, but I couldn't eat the whole risotto and left just under half of it.

We have a saying in our household, I'm sure you've heard it yourself, but we have a second stomach when it comes to dessert and as full as we were we decided to share one of the Bucci specialties.  You are really selling a dessert when you state on the menu that it's the best chocolate cake ever!  We ordered the chocolate nemesis del 'the river cafe', otherwise known s the best chocolate cake ever with vanilla mascarpone and crushed frozen raspberries.    The cake was rich and quite decedent and looked simple yet amazing on the plate.  Raspberries and chocolate are an absolute classic combination and the texture and richness of the cake really cried out for raspberries, thankfully there were plenty on the plate to get through the richness. Interestingly the mascarpone cream helped cut through the richness and bind it all together.  Was this cake great, yep.  Was it the best cake I have ever eaten, well, not quite.

We were amazed at the pace at which all of our courses came out on the night.  There was none of the waiting for ages between dishes that can get a bit tiring, but on the other hand, they did come out a little bit too quickly and didn't allow the courses to settle.  In the short while that we were sitting at Bucci it went from a relatively empty dining area to being completely packed.  I'm not sure if the strategy is to keep the dishes flowing regularly to keep on top of things in what is clearly a very busy restaurant, but it didn't work out so well for us on the night.

Bucci is a great looking restaurant which is really opened up to James Street to let the world in and give a feeling of alfresco dining, even from inside the dining area.  It's reasonably large too with all the seating afforded a great view of the open style kitchen to watch the chefs hard at work.  There is a really modern feel to the plush seats around the edge of the dining area and I particularly like the contemporary light fittings that were lots of little flying bodies all joined together.

It's not surprising that the restaurant is vibrant and full, it's in a great spot, the staff are really friendly and approachable and there is a pretty comprehensive menu on offer.  I particularly enjoyed the arancini balls to begin with but all of the starters were great.  I'll need to get back again and check out a few different mains to get a better feel for the menu, although I'll probably avoid the risotto next time and try one of the pasta dishes.  

Comfy seats and a view of James Street
The open kitchen - good views from all of the seats
Very interesting light fittings
The dining area sneaks into the mall
The specials board

Bucci on UrbanspoonBucci Bar & Restaurant


  1. This is now on my list of restaurants to visit when in Brisbane next! Wow! Looks fantastic!

    1. Great to see Elise, there were some yummy options to try


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