Australian Traveller reviews Legno Pizzeria in Surry Hills, Sydney, the new Italian venture by Vince Battiato.
“I will blow Crust Pizza out of the water.”
That’s the definitive word from Vince Battiato as the Australian Traveller team sits down to lunch in his new venture, Legno Pizzeria in Sydney’s Surry Hills.
Although right now we’re eating at Legno, Vince’s Crust-blowing reference is actually about another culinary scheme he’s working on – Slice Bar, an outfit that will specialise in oven-cooked pizza portions in the high-traffic Bondi Beach area. But it’s difficult to keep Vince on topic; his world is so full of new ventures, new opportunities. Legno is just the latest, and truth to tell it’s pretty damn good.
A minor scuffle breaks out over the zucchini flowers, which are as good as any I’ve tasted.
The décor is modern and simple, cafeteria style, all the rage. A small number of framed images season the walls. A Vespa Sprint abuts the bar, right next to a small lounge-sofa area, backed by a huge black and white mural that creates a neat nook. Three giant lightshades, like halved, upturned limes, hang over the long centre tables. Benches line the walls. There’s still work to be done on the outdoor area (more bench seats, flower boxes, perhaps an awning) and there’s talk of a rooftop bar, permission pending. Although the location – a not particularly busy stretch of Elizabeth St as it slices through Surry Hills – may cause some difficulties with walk-in traffic, a number of offices in the area are already becoming regulars, so that seems a promising start.
And today, in amongst all this, sits Vince, holding court, looking for all the world like a very gracefully aging Scott Baio in his Chachi from Happy Days role. Everything that comes from his mouth is a (seemingly) carelessly crafted sound bite – he is that well media trained. With an eclectic BA in English Literature, Creative Writing and Medieval History, Vince arrived at the restaurant scene via the service entrance, and also via several different jobs in journalism – a fact which makes him expert in the promotion game. The result is an exceptionally smooth, charismatic Sicilian-Australian who you can’t help feeling has the ability to go as far as he likes in any industry he cares to turn his hand to.
And so, with another Vince (Jones) slipping from hidden speakers to accompany our lunch, we get to work on Legno’s menu. Complimentary olives kick things off, warmed, from the Ligurian Coast, and they’re good enough to actually cause a minor stir at the table. As does the wine list. It’s small, but personally selected by Battiato, with a lot of Italian drops, a lot by the glass to encourage broad experimentation, and is updated and refreshed often. We choose a 2006 Mt Horrocks from the Clare Valley ($55). Like Battiato, it is also exceptionally warm and smooth.
To this we add a large antipasto (cold cuts, roasted capsicum et al, $16) and the Fiori di Zucchine Ripien con Ricotta e Salsa Rossa (fried zucchini flowers stuffed with ricotta, basil and lemon on tomato coulis, $17). Again, a minor scuffle breaks out over the zucchini flowers, which are as good as any I’ve tasted.
The major portion of the meal is taken up with pizza – which is really what we’ve come for – and they are without exception very thin, very crispy, and very, very good. We settle on a straight up Capricciosa (ham, mushroom, artichoke, basil, tomato & olives, $18); a Cipollina (light onion base, mozzarella, prawns, chilli, oregano garlic & tomato sugo,$19); a Di Mare (mussels, prawns, tomato, garlic, chilli, basil & bocconcini, $22); a Salsiccia (Italian sausage, Spanish onion, roasted capsicum, garlic, goat’s cheese & thyme, $20); and by far the best of all, the restaurant’s signature pizza, an Al’ Legno (tomato, pancetta, Italian sausage, garlic, porcini mushroom, basil & bocconcini, $20).
As we finish up with a round of Levazza coffees, I’m permitted to sneak off and shoot some pics of the staff, food and surrounds. Sous chef Danny Lanza prepared all our food today – with the able assistance of specialist pizza guy and resident “tiny little Italian” Danny Tumia, while another Danny (Emery) expertly ran the floor. Battiato sets great store in the quality of his staff, and it seems born out here, but will his heightened level of quietly confident ambition bring him the success he desires? All the ingredients are there: at Legno; in his talented staff; for his new Slice Bar venture soon to come in Bondi; for another potential Legnos in Melbourne after that; and for who knows how many other clever ventures he has up his sleeve.
AT certainly hopes so. His food is bloody good.
DETAILS // Legno Pizzeria
529 Elizabeth St, Surry Hills, Sydney
(02) 9698 8225, www.legnopizzeria.com.au