After more than 30 years at the top of Sydney’s Italian foodscape, legendary chef and restauranteur Armando Percuoco is handing over the reins of his beloved Buon Ricordo.
This iconic Italian eatery has been feeding lucky diners in Sydney since 1987, with a steady string of A-listers coming through the doors. Despite witnessing three decades of change, Buon Ricordo is a rare gem that remains dedicated to tradition, unphased by our city’s steady tide of food fads and trends.
For diehard fans and Armando Percuoco devotees fearing the Paddington institution may be losing its wellspring of knowledge, you can rest assured it’s being left in trusted and capable hands. Armando’s protégé and long-serving head chef, David Wright, is now taking the lead.
David may only be 30 but he’s been working in the kitchen at Buon Ricordo since he was 17. Despite being handed the reigns of one of Sydney's most iconic Italian eateries, he’s largely interested in upholding the restaurant’s legacy and satisfying its long returning customers.
Yep, there’s no need to worry folks. That seminal, stop-everything Fettucine al Tartufovo isn’t going anywhere.
So, at the passing of the pasta baton (so to speak), I sat down with David and Armando to tap into their combined wealth of Italian cooking knowledge and find out what it’s been like to create a truffle fettuccine that’s truly stood the test of time.
Armando, Buon Ricordo has been winning our hearts for 30 years. Why do you think we’re still in love?
Armando: People are far more educated about food than they were when I opened my first restaurant, Pulcinella. Food journalists were very powerful, these days social media dominates. People are constantly on the phone and can’t eat before taking a photograph.
But I think my success and longevity has come from being constantly alert in the kitchen, having my eyes on the dining room and embracing and nurturing my customers, as they have me. It has been an incredible privilege to know and look after generations of families.
You both have a wealth of experience with one of the world’s most cherished cuisines. What is the key to authentic Italian food?
David: It’s about understanding the ingredients and using the best produce available.
Armando: For me, it is enjoying someone eating your food.
Do you have a favourite Italian dish?
Armando: Zuppa di pesce cooked in Italy. Our seafood in Australia is different and we can’t compete with the flavour of tomatoes from Naples.
David: The minestra that my grandmother makes. She simply cooks wild winter greens from the garden, seasoned with wild fennel, potatoes, bread and oil.
David, you have Sicilian heritage and Armando you're from Naples. Will these regional differences be represented on the menu at Buon Ricordo?
David: Regional differences are what makes Italy so exciting, and while our menu is heavily influenced by Armando’s Neapolitan roots, other dishes that have become signature to the restaurant are our own, devised in Australia. Other dishes, such as our tripe, are from Veneto, and the Bistecca is from Tuscany.
Sicilian cuisine is having a moment. What are some true Sicilian ingredients we can sample at Buon Ricordo?
David: Capers and caper berries from Salina one of the Aeolian Islands, where my family comes from, are unique. I use them in a variety of pasta and fish dishes. Sea urchins, sardines and ragusano—a sheep’s milk cheese—are also ingredients I love to use. These are things we use throughout the year at [the restaurant].
Are we likely to see more Sicilian influences on the menu?
David: I will continue to do a few special event lunches and dinners of only Sicilian food and wine throughout the year. The highlight lunch was earlier this year with live music from Unavantaluna – a traditional band we brought out from Sicily.
What are some of the most important lessons you’ve learned from each other?
Armando: We share passion and respect. Respect for each other, for food and for our customers.
David: The customer is number one, and every day is a new day—an opportunity to cook better.
Is there anything the two of you disagree on in the kitchen?
David: No, not when it comes to food. We disagree on other things but not cooking.
Armando: We share a very similar attitude based on respect for the tradition of Italian food. It is probably the reason we have worked together for so long.
Last question. Armando, you are the creator of one of Sydney’s greatest plates of pasta. So can you give us your ultimate pasta cooking tip?
Armando: The quality of the pasta is key. Make sure you use a good artisan pasta. [Check] the amount of water, you need plenty, don’t add oil to the water - apart from when making lasagne - and save some of the cooking water to add to your sauce.
Image credit: Bob Barrett.