So this one starts with a disclaimer. Being half Italian I grew up eating well, very well. And it means that I am a total Italian food snob, and proud of it, with a list of dishes I will almost never order when out, because, let’s face it, there are some things Nonna or Mamma definitely do better and it’s frankly not worth the disappointment. Risotto was one of those dishes, and then I went to Mantecato.
If you think you know risotto, think again. Risotto is the specialty here, so much so that the name, Mantecato, is derived from that glorious final moment when butter is vigorously whisked in at the end. No secret to locals, this charming little rissotteria is nestled on a quiet street in Balmain and managed with love and a passion for the old country by Italian twin brothers, Marco and Paolo Orso. Yes their parents named them well.
Like all good meals it’s customary to start the night off with a cocktail and when I see a cocktail list where five of the eight choices feature Campari, be still my beating heart, and there is not one but TWO Negronis on offer, we’re already off to a smashing start. I’m a creature of habit when it comes to my cocktails and the Negroni is my regular go-to. Purists will not be disappointed by their classic offering but do give their Negroni Sbagliato a whirl, literally translated to a wrong or bungled Negroni this drink is oh-so-right, combining classic ingredients with Prosecco. Once you’ve made your way through the cocktails it’s time to hit up the wine list. And it’s a pretty fabulous read. Passionate about a good drop, the list is bursting with boutique labels from across Italy and Australia.
Before your order, check the white tiled specials board and then settle in for the starters. A meal isn’t a meal without olives so along with the Olive miste I couldn’t go past the Tris di arancini, the three stuffed rice croquettes, one with ragu, one with taleggio cheese and the final beauty filled with pistachio. The Fritto misto of lightly fried calamari, prawns and zucchini is also great to share and the Affettati or sliced meats and cheeses are also delish, I recommend ordering the Misti for the best of both worlds.
Their mains are where we get down to business with the risotto taking pride of place. Like I said earlier, I would normally pass on risotto but not here. Here, I want to eat all the risottos and may or may not have bullied my friends into choosing dishes I too wanted to try. Risotto here is not your regular mushroom and parmesan, risotto here is an experience, yep I used the E word. It’s made from Italy’s finest carnaroli grains and imported from the Piedmont region in northern Italy direct to Balmain. My favourite is hands down the Zucca e granchio, a risotto with pumpkin, spanner crab meat and crab bisque closely followed by the Rapa rossa e formaggio di fossa, the beetroot risotto with fossa cheese and toasted sesame seeds.
If you’re a pasta fan you actually can’t make a bad choice here. All their pastas are handmade and the Tagliatelle al ragu has a chunky yet creamy ragu combining pork and beef goodness. Their Ravioli di ricotta e spinaci will keep your vegetarian friends happy, stuffed with perfectly seasoned cheese and spinach and topped with butter and sage.
All the dishes go beautifully with their Contorni selection of Patate arrosto, rosemary roasted potatoes, or their salads which I can’t play favourites with, I love them both, the Ruchetta e parmigiano, rocket and parmesan as well as the Finocchietti, fennel sautéed with orange, rosemary and toasted pumpkin seeds.
Make sure you leave room for dessert, or find some quick smart, because you can’t go home without tantalising those buds with some Italian sweets. Tiramisu is another thing I rarely order and yet another example of Mantecato bringing the goods. Their Housemade tiramisu is a perfectly layered pairing of savoiardi biscuits, generously laced with coffee and finished with sweet folds of mascarpone cheese. The Mousse di pistachio di Bronte, Sicillian Bronte pistachio mousse layered with rice sponge and passionfruit coulis is also all kinds of divine.
And just when you think you’re done they wheel in the trolley. No this is not to carry you and your food coma home but a mini bar on wheels for that much-needed nightcap.
Mantecato is tasty service with a smile and a gorgeous Italian accent wishing you a buona sera, what more do you need?
Want all the details? Check out Manteceto in The Directory!
Image credit: Federica Portentoso