I’m about to begin a series of posts on the restaurant. But before I do that, I want to write about two meals eaten this past week to illustrate the diversity of dining in this big city. Mazi Mas the first, and then Capriccio in Leichhardt.
First, Mazi Mas at Bar Cupola in Pitt Street. Mazi Mas, part of a Greek phrase meaning Eláte na fáte mazí mas: come eat with us, is a pop up restaurant project. The organisers host dining events around Sydney and provide training and employment opportunities for migrant, refugee and asylum seeking women who have the right to work (aren’t we generous?).
These women cook and serve the food. And if the event I attended with (and thanks to) my friend Paul Van Reyk is any indication, it is a wonderful thing, on every level.
This is a time when we are served dishes from menus devised by chefs seeking plaudits for originality and daring, things like – and I’m quoting from an actual review – ‘a small piece of lamb…juniper smoked and sprinkled with pickled miniature Monterey (AKA Pinus radiata) pine cones’. Or a menu described as speaking ‘fluent Manly, a lingo that mashes Mexican, Japanese and dudey street food’
Call me an old gastronomic grump, but that is not what I want to eat. It is, in the memorable words of Michael Pollan (although for different reasons), not food my grandmother would recognise.
Neither, of course, is the food at Mazi Mas, because neither of my grand mothers were Persian, Sri Lankan or Pakistani.
And rather than mash Sri Lankan with Persian, and strive for never before seen combinations dedicated to the glory of the chefs, the gentle women who cooked – and served – the dishes we ate that night recreated them as they had received them from their families.
When I tell you that the standout dish of the night for me and for Paul was Gowu Maluwa, a cabbage curry, whose gentle heat was derived from sliced fresh green chillis, you may wish to ignore or ridicule me. Not far behind it was the Ghormeh Sabzi, a slow cooked Persian lamb and herb stew, aromatic and, again, delicate. But I’m passing over the entrees, Kachay Qeemay Kay Kabab, beef kebabs with fresh herbs and spices and the Chicken Karahi, chicken with tomato and Pakistani spices. All served with delicious and perfectly cooked saffron rice.
And the dessert, bastani, Persian ice cream made with saffron rose water and pistachio was an aromatic and – there’s that word again – delicate interpretation of those ingredients, which you can almost taste as you read them.
Accompanying the bastani were two little ovals of what was described on the menu as ‘nougat’ but which was, as I discovered by interrogation, gaz. Gaz, from my brief foray into Dr Google’s emporium of limitless information, comes from the Isfahan area, and the name is ‘associated with gaz-angebin which translates to ‘sap of angebin’, in reference to a species of Tamarisk native to the Zagros mountain range, west of Isfahan and Boldaji.’ This may be the missing link in my investigations into the origins of halva, nougat, turron and torrone. But more of that later.
In place of spectacle and bravado, we were offered finesse and traditional treasures from cooks more interested in our pleasure than their fame. My only criticism was that there should have been an opportunity to sit down with the cooks and discuss with them the dishes and their aspirations. Being a couple of pushy blokes, Paul and I engaged with them anyway. But a more organised encounter would have been the gaz on the bastani.
In many ways the meal at Mazi Mas and that at Capriccio could not have been more different. One cooked and served by amateurs, home cooks from different parts of the world and the second cooked and served by restaurant professionals, all from Italy or of Italian origin.
The two owners of the restaurant are Michele Rispoli and Matteo Galletto: Michele is from Positano, and Matteo, as the name will tell you, is the son of the well-established restaurateur Lucio Galletto of Lucio’s in Paddington. The chef is Bryan Gerlini, is from the border of Romagna and Marche.
But if all three are professionals, and Capriccio is a most professional operation, the food offered there shares with the food from the dinner at Mazi Mas approachability and flavour over shock and awe. Case in point.
Passatelli vongole, an almost impudently simple dish based on a kind of, sort of, pasta I had never heard of. Passatelli, like little worms, are made from Parmigiano, dry bread crumbs, eggs, (traditionally) beef marrow, nutmeg and pepper. A paste is made and pushed through either a purpose built passatelli maker or a potato ricer. Traditionally served with broth, this dish was passatelli with pipis and fresh tomato. Sensational. And simple.
We were greeted with a tray of cannolo alla mortadella, cannoli stuffed with a paste made of Italian mortadella, which, as cannolo con mousse di mortadella is all over Google but in Italian, so I guess it’s a modern Italian recipe. We gobbled them up.
Another dish which I assume (I’m not as au fait with Italian as I am with Spanish) is from la nuova cucina Italiana, was the tuna tonnato, just-seared triangles of albacore tuna –an under rated and not endangered species – with a tuna mayo, as in vitello tonnato, littered with little anchovies and drizzled with dill oil.
But having shown us the modern, Michele, Matteo and Bryan had the courage and good sense to present the traditional: prosciutto con melone, actually two melons, rock and honey.
There was, embarrassingly, much more including some terrific dishes around bread which is excellent and made in house, and included panini of thin slices of porchetta with fennel and radicchio.
So two meals, worlds apart, but cooked and served with honesty and a desire to please not so much the cooks and the food press, but those very important human beings: the customers.
And as we all remarked after the Capriccio meal, isn’t it good to have Italian food back in Leichhardt?
Mazi Mas: go to mazimas.com.au for details of the next pop-up. See you there.
Capriccio: 59 Norton St, Leichhardt
(02) 9572 7607
Web: capriccio. Sydney