Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Locanda osteria and bar - simple Italian fare but with strong flavours

A couple of weeks ago we thought we would check out one of the new restaurants over at the recently completed M&A Lane.  There were a couple of options, with three of the six or so planned planned restaurants already open, but as we walked towards the lane, an incredible smell led us towards the Mighty Mighty (see post here).  While we were sitting and mostly enjoying our southern style BBQ, we sat facing our other option and spent the night wondering if we had made the right choice.

Fast forward a couple of weeks and we had a more definitive plan to check out Locanda Osteria and Bar, which as the name suggests is an Italian joint.  It's more than a little interesting that two of the hottest styles of food right now, Italian and Southern BBQ have opened right next door to each other.  In my mind 2103 has been the year of the Italian and American restaurant, with a heap of new dining establishments opening up with a bent in either direction.

They guys that have put Locanda Osteria together certainly know a little bit about what it takes to run a successful Italian restaurant.  Restaurant heavyweights Manny Sakellarakis and Dan Clark have  created arguably Brisbane's best Italian restaurant in 1889 Enoteca at Woolloongabba and have teamed up with Cove Southbank's Adam Barton on this venture.  Combined they have a heap of experience creating successful restaurants and giving people what they really want, top quality nosh.  They've also snared head chef Daniel Jones to man the kitchen, who has worked at some of Brisbane's best Restaurants including Cha Cha Char and Baguette.

We'd decided to head over to Locanda Osteria on a Sunday night before heading out to see the Hobbit with a mate.  As luck would have it, there was a massive storm heading in from the west, so our initial plan to walk over was 'killed' in favour of driving over a little earlier to try to avoid the worst of the storm.  We were the first to arrive so had the pleasure of taking any seat that we wanted, and after contemplating sitting inside in the air conditioning, we took the risk that we would be far enough under cover in Locanda's outside dining area to avoid the rain.

Being the only customers in the restaurant, we were able to have a decent chat with our waiter as he handed over the menus for us to peruse.  Turns out he's a Melbourne lad and the hot weather was having a little bit of an impact on the poor fellow.  Looking over the menus we could see that the approach was fairly traditional and a reasonable sized selection of antipasta and pasta, but a more limited range of 'secondi' and mains that included split roast share plates.  This was in line with the term Osteria, which is usually described as "an Italian restaurant serving simple inexpensive food and wine. An emphasis on traditional handmade pasta, grilled meat and seafood, served at shared tables."

We decided to jump straight in with a couple of share plates to begin with and started off with polpette con sugo - meatballs in a house-made tomato sauce.  The plate was perfectly designed to share between two, with six perfectly cooked and moist pork and veal meatballs, which meant three each and no fighting over an odd number.  The meatballs were totally delicious and were enhanced by a lovely house made tomato sauce. While I quite liked the tomato sauce, which was very sweet, it could have been enhanced a little with a bit more of a bite to give the dish a little more depth.  As for presentation, it was quite simple on a flat plate but would have been nicer in a little bowl, which would have helped soak up the sauce with the meatballs.

Our next plate to share was the calamari fritti - fried baby calamari, which appears on pretty much every menu in town at the moment (well, not quite).  Most of the calamari we have had recently has been well cooked but lacking in a little flavour, not so with these little beauties.  The calamari was a mix of body and tentacles and were expertly cooked and very tender as well as having a really decent flavour.  The light coating over the calamari was delicious, with great seasoning which was enhanced with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice over the top.  These were the real deal and one of the best examples of calamari fritti we've had for some time.

We always worry a little bit when the entrees are so tasty, we've often had great flavoured starters then have been let down with flat main courses.  We contemplated getting the split roast to share, but wanted something a little more traditional so SC opted for the trenette con pesto - narrow flat pasta with pine nuts, garlic and basil as her main.  Like most really good pasta, the dish was quite simple with few ingredients. The main component of the dish was basil, which was abundant throughout the dish and the flavour was quite good.  There is little room to hide with such a simple dish and while it did have great flavour, it was not without fault.  The pasta had stuck together in a couple of spots, so there were clumps of slightly under cooked pasta, not terrible but it did detract a little.  SC also had a feeling that a little extra texture with more pine nuts would also have gone a long way to making a good dish great.

I'd only needed to look over the menu for a few seconds before I knew that it would be the risotto con gamberi - risotto with prawns for me.  This was a dish of contrasts, it looked amazing with four large prawns sitting atop of some perfectly cooked risotto.  You could see each of the individual bits of rice on this dish and the texture was just about as perfect as you can get with risotto, it was just being held together and slowly oozing over the plate.  Where the risotto was perfectly cooked, as were the prawns, there was some question for me about the flavour, which admittedly was incredibly strong, but there was just something not quite right with it for my palate.  It took me ages to figure out what it was, and I finally decided that it was the bisque flavour of the risotto.  I generally love seafood bisque, I mean really love it, but usually a bisque has something sweet added, usually cream, to take the edge off the flavour.  The normal sweet flavour you love from risottos was not present and instead was a really sharp bisque flavour that was just a bit harsh.  What was weird about it was that not all of the dish had that harsh flavour, with some mouthfuls a much more tempered (and pleasant) flavour.

What was really good about our starters and mains was the size, they were not ridiculously large like some Italian restaurants and they left plenty of room for dessert.  We both had our eye on one of the desserts and this time I won out, so SC ended up ordering the meringa - meringue.  The simple name did not prepare us for the intricate and complete dessert that was presented that included fig, strawberry strap, cherries, peach, custard and of course the meringue.  It was quite delicious and the few bites that SC allowed me to have were quite well balanced out between sweet and sour, with lots of contrasting textures.  It was a simple yet complete dessert that would have been a good second choice :)

The dessert that we both had our eyes on was the most traditional of Italian desserts the pannacotta.  I was pretty happy to see the pannacotta presented on a plate in it's traditional cup shape with macerated strawberries and blue berries.  The pannacotta was a beautifully set vanilla bean which was extraordinarily sweet but perfectly balanced out with the acidity from the balsamic vinegar that the strawberries were macerated in.  I really loved the contrasting flavours with the sweetness and sourness combining well on the palate and there was a perfect amount of berries to pannacotta so that the last bite had a bit of each.

It was pouring quite heavy rain pretty much the whole time we were eating our meals and there was a decent light and sound show provided by mother nature too.  It was a little bit blowy in our seats but the rain never disturbed us and to be honest, it was such a hot and muggy day the cool breeze was much appreciated.  We chatted to our waiter that they might need to do something about the outside area as, during the colder winter months, it could be quite uncomfortable outside.  It seems as if they've thought about that and there will be some screens added soon that will help protect diners from the elements.

It remained pretty quiet our whole meal, which was not surprising given the weather and the fact it was the Sunday between Christmas and New Years, so we had excellent service from the staff who had us and one other table to attend to.  Our waiter was both friendly and knowledgeable and made a great wine recommendation after SC had made a selection that was not quite what she was after (dry and sharp).

I loved the simple lay out of the restaurant as well, which had three separate dining areas each with a different feel.  Outside felt really relaxed and perfect for a hot summer's day while the inside main dining area had a very modern feel with the exposed light fittings and bright colours.  There was also a more formal looking smaller dinning area that had lots of exposed wine racks and a much darker and secluded feel.  The only design flaw with the restaurant that I could see was that the kitchen at Locanda is hidden out the back behind the bar area, with my preference always to see the kitchen in action.

So far we have checked out two of the restaurants in the new M&A Lane with Locanda easily being my favourite of the two.  I'll be keen to check out the others when they open up but if you're looking for a simple yet very tasty meal, then Locanda should be on your list of places to check out.

The two mains were very tasty and so full of flavour but they were not quite perfect
The desserts were great with a top quality pannacotta
Simple and elegant inside
The kitchen is hidden behind the bar area - I guess there was not enough room for an open kitchen
Slightly more secluded with a dark and sexy feel
It was a hot and steamy night with plenty of rain.  The outdoor section is perfect for a casual meal

Locanda Osteria & Bar on UrbanspoonLocanda Osteria & Bar

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