Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Viale Canova - feeling the love of suburban Italian

I've been on a bit of an epic journey over the last few years and I am oh-so-close to achieving a bit of a foodie goal.  If you're a regular visitor to my blog, then it's certainly not a surprise to you that I eat out a bit, well, a lot.  It's also not really going to shock you that I've a preference for the finer side of dining (although I'm still a burger fiend).  You might be asking what the 'epic' journey I've been on and I'm about to tell you.

But first, a little background.  In Queensland there are three main ways that a restaurant can be recognised: the Australian Good Food Guide, which awards 'Hats' to the top restaurants;  the Brisbane Times Good Food Guide, which also gives out 'Hats'; finally, there is Gourmet Traveller, which has a national top 100 restaurant list and also awards 'Stars' to top restaurants.  So, I've taken on a mission to visit each and every hatted or starred restaurant in Brisbane and I'm almost there.... 

Viale Canova is a suburban fine diner and it's the second last restaurant on my list.  Living in the city, I find it a little difficult to get out to the suburbs, but given my mission, I 'bit the bullet' and made the drive up Sandgate Road to Clayfield.  I guess it's not really that far away, but with so many awesome restaurants in the CBD, I just find it more convenient to dine locally.  

As you can probably guess by the name, Viale Canova is an Italian diner and with an AGFG, it's an award winning restaurant.  It was opened by a couple of mates in 2004, who'd dreamed of opening a restaurant when they were growing up in Borso Del Grappa, in provincial Italy.  Lorenzo Spezzamonte is the man in the kitchen, using only the freshest of ingredients to bring an authentic taste of 'home' and Massimo Bortolazzo has created an atmosphere that is both intimate and homely at the same time.  The name Viale Canova is a reference to a sculpture by Antonio Vanova, who was born in 1757, not far away from where Lorenzo and Massimo grew up.

If you're not familiar with the area, I'll give you a little tip, you can find parking around the back of the restaurant, a fact that we didn't find out until we found the restaurant's entry.  We'd struggled up Sandgate Road until we found a side street to park in and then 'hoofed' it back. Feeling a little stressed from the crossing of one of Brisbane's busiest streets, our cortisone levels dropped immediately upon entering Viale Canova, I think it had something to do with the lovely ambiance and soft music playing in the background that transported us to provincial Italy.

We were greeted warmly by Massimo and led down to the main area of the restaurant and shown to our seats.  It's amazing how small the Brisbane dining scene is, seated a few tables away from us were a couple of SC's workmates, already well into their meal.  We were given a set of menus to look over and advised of the specials of the evening before Massimo retreated respectfully allowing us to consider what we'd be ordering for the evening.  Viale Canova has an extensive menu, so it took us some time to decide on the evening's selections.

While we waited for our starters to arrive, SC's glass of Pinot arrived along with an amuse bouche of creme fraiche on a lightly toasted bread.  It looked very rustic, with the four slices of toast arranged around a garnish and sprinkled with black poppy seeds.  While the small bites looked pretty plain, there was a nice creaminess and sweetness that set the tastebuds alight.

Our first starter arrived, which was a light and fluffy house made potato gnocchi, served with a rich ragu that had large chunks of veal.  Before SC could kick on and start, Massimo offered some freshly ground parmesan cheese, which was gratefully accepted.  The dish was a perfect combination of strong, well balanced flavours and the delicate gnocchi and each mouthful was a pleasure.  The veal was beautiful and tender, the sauce rich with the gnocchi seemingly soaking up the flavour and improving with every bite.

My starter was the risotto of the day, a wonderful sounding scampi with asparagus.  Now, one of my favourite risottos of all time was a prawn and asparagus risotto from Pan e Vino (sadly, the menu changed some time ago) and I was hoping some something approaching that delicious risotto.  The risotto, when presented, looked quite different from the vision in my mind, mostly because white asparagus had been used, which didn't provide much of a colour contrast on the plate.  Visually, it wasn't as exciting as I was expecting, but once I took my first bite, I soon forgot that little quibble.  I found the expertly cooked scampi to be lovely, sweet with great texture and the rice was just as you'd expect with a risotto.  Initially, I thought the dish was a bit too acidic, as if the wine hadn't been cooked off completely, but like all good risottos, it improved over time and by the time I'd finished, it was near perfect.

Looking for something a little different for her main, SC decided that the 'I gamberoni del giorno' or prawn dish of the day.  The huge plate of expertly cooked prawns was presented with a rich tomato and chilli sauce that had big chunks of tomato, sitting atop a bed of rice.  It was actually a really generous helping of large prawns and the sweet prawn meat worked well with the beautiful sauce.   It was a case of really simple flavours and amazing produce working together and speaking for themselves.  There was an option of roasted vegetables or a big salad to be accompanied with the main and after a recommendation from Massimo, SC went with the big salad.

My main of roasted venison loin with a spiced pear and polenta was mostly incredible.  The venison came a perfectly cooked medium rare and was tender and full flavoured, which was enhanced by the fresh rosemary sitting atop the meat.  The spiced pear was beautifully cooked too, the texture just right, not too soft but a bit of bite.  What I didn't get, and generally don't get, was the polenta. I've never been a fan and just don't understand what it's for.  I think I'd have preferred a nice, creamy potato mash.  I'd picked the roasted vegetables with my veal and the big chunks of roasted potato worked really well.

It was time for dessert and I'd made a bit of a tactical error with my order of custard filled profiteroles.  I'm not sure why I went to an Italian restaurant and ordered a French dessert.  I found the puff pastry to be dry and a little bit stale and while the cream custard was lovely and sweet, the dessert was overly dry and just not right.  I also found the presentation on a mirror to be extremely weird, I've never had food served on a mirror before and it was a little off putting.

On the other hand, SC picked an absolute winner of a dessert with the tiramisu, the classic Italian dessert that when done well is superb.  It was done well, very well.   There was a clear layering of the coffee soaked ladyfingers and mascarpone and finished off with a dusting of cocoa.  It was a very generous serving and SC struggled to get through, even with my help.  It was probably one of the better tiramisu's around Brisbane and from the feedback I've since received from Clayfield locals, the only dessert to be had at Viale Canova.

Apart from a couple of minor quibbles and one major one (those profiteroles), Viale Canova was quite a good experience.  We'd visited another of the suburban Italian restaurants this year, the nearby Mario at the Dining Room (see post here) and Viale Canova was far superior.  The entrees and mains were really good and there were a lot of items on the menu that we'd love to have tried. We didn't even get to the pasta side of the menu.

It wasn't very busy on the night of our visit and Massimo was all over service, which was professional and provided with the type of love that only an owner can provide.  His suggestions were great and we found that he was really engaging and passionate about the food.  We even had Lorenzo out of the kitchen at one point, helping deliver the mains.

Viale Canova is most certainly a suburban restaurant, but one of the better ones.  I guess with the accolades that have flowed since they opened is testament to the realisation of their dream...  The dream of a couple of boys from a far away land.

The amuse bouche was a little strange and looked quite plain but tasted OK
The scampi and asparagus risotto was lovely but lacked a little colour
The venison was perfectly cooked and had a rich meaty flavour - just the way it should be
The big salad
It was a quiet night at Viale Canova
I've only seen red love seats in the movies
SC contemplated sitting down and banging out a tune 
The gold statue really felt Italian to me
A great little coffee table book with photos of movie scenes

Viale Canova on UrbanspoonViale Canova


  1. You are dead right about the Brisbane dining scene - I ran into a colleague from my last job on Saturday night at Catbird Seat! The gnocchi and the risotto look really good here, and the decor/ambience looks impressive for a suburban Italian too.

    We live on the East side of town (not far from CBS) so haven't been to Mario Sarti in years. I'm interested to see what you thought of it!

    1. Haha, Rachel, I was at Shouk one morning for breakfast and there were two other bloggers there while I was dining and I saw another three posting on insta througout the day!

      I really liked CSB and you're lucky its your local :)



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