No doubt, Sydney loves a piping hot bowl of pasta.
Pasta has been a mood forever, but recently it seems the fever for handmade, fresh pasta in our pretty harbour city has hit new heights. Whether it’s superstar chef Mitch Orr shaking things up at his new outpost in Bondi with bucatini ragu or strozzapreti and zucchini flowers, or nabbing a table at Alberto’s Lounge, 10 William Street, Totti’s, or, the latest pasta joint to join the scene, Ragazzi—we’re all wrapped up in pasta, glorious pasta right now.
Beyond the hype, though—nothing beats a brilliant neighbourhood Italian. Especially, a neighbourhood Italian installed with a former Tetsuya protégé, and enough creativity and authenticity brewing in the kitchen to make every visit as tasty as it is as thrilling as an actual trip to Tuscany.
Enter, Capriccio Osteria. An unsuspecting Leichhardt jewel, led by restauranteur and Positano native Michele Rispoli, alongside his partner head chef Nicole Bampton, who, just casually, was the chef de partie at Tetsuya’s and Sepia, before becoming the head chef at Lucio’s. Intrigued? You should be.
Leichardt used to be Sydney’s version of Little Italy—an absolute hub for pasta, red sauce and spritz. These days, Sydney’s Italian scene is more fragmented, there are exciting pockets of greatness and places to hit from Bondi Beach all the way to Surry Hills, Paddington, Haberfield, Marrickville and Freshwater Beach. But, Leichhardt’s still got it—and Capriccio Osteria, nestled into a street-side spot on Norton Street, is a glowing example.
Set across two floors of a terrace, the restaurant’s lemon motif has inspired lemon yellow-coloured accents throughout the bright, inviting space—even the pizza oven has been splashed in yellow. Capriccio loosely translates to “whim”, and that’s certainly the vibe here: light and fancy-free. Despite Bampton's impressive CV, Capriccio is totally without any airs and graces.
On the ground floor is a large marble bar, and an open kitchen hovers towards the back. Upstairs, the dining space opens out onto a breezy balcony.
As well as a menu that rotates with the seasons, Rispoli and Bampton host regular degustation-style dinners set to a theme—whether it’s something seasonal like truffle, or just an opportunity for Bampton to flex her creative muscle, covering off delicacies from iconic Italian regions, or incorporating cooking styles, ingredients and ideas from other national cuisines like Greek or Turkish. Always approachable and (very) reasonably priced, you’ll want to keep an eye out for the next one by signing up to the restaurant’s newsletter.
In our opinion, Bampton's pasta is the absolute hero at Capriccio. Rather than just plating up the classics, she intro's traditional styles and flavours you may not have tried before. Nothing that'll test the palate, just a broader sample of Italy's best regional cuisine.
When we visit, corzetti is on the menu and Capriccio is the only pasta joint in Sydney dishing out this Ligurian staple. Shaped like a medallion, this style of pasta originated in the Middle Ages. Each disc is stamped in order to hold the pasta sauce better, usually with fruit, family symbols, palm trees or sunsets. Capriccio's stamp, imported from Italy, is (of course) a lemon.
It's served in a red pepper sauce with Italian sausage and broccoli rabe, and it's hearty, homey and perfectly satisfying.
Other pastas to try include a squid ink spaghetti with blue swimmer crab, chilli and basil; there's a saffron pappardelle with lamb shank and an unmissable fettucine duck and porcini ragu.
Before you get stuck into the pasta, you'll want to sample Capriccio's antipasti—think Prosciutto di Parma with rockmelon, mozzarella and pea arancini served with saffron aioli, duck liver parfait and beef carpaccio served like a pizza round with rocket and crispy parsnip.
On the woodfired side of things, you're in for snacks like octopus skewers, asparagus spears with stracciatella and wood-fired porchetta.
For dessert, you can't go past Bampton's baked ricotta cheesecake, or her passionfruit cream cannoli.
What's the perfect accompaniment to an evening of pasta you ask? Spritz, of course. Capriccio has not one, but five variations to choose from, including a Sicilian (made with Aperol, sparkling rose and sparkling orange), a mandarin spritz (with vodka, Aperol and sparkling mandarin), and a "Norton" spritz (with vodka, sparkling rosé, bitters and fresh lime).
If you're more of a Negroni type of human (honestly, same), you'll want to give the rosé negroni a whirl. It's made with Campari, vermouth rosé and orange vodka and while you can't improve on perfection, this is an excellent segue.
Rispoli has picked out a solid selection of Italian and Australian wines, covering basics as well as some slightly more adventurous drops. The house white and red hail from Abruzzo region east of Rome, and you can order either by the glass, in a 500ml carafe, or as a full litre.
For more new restaurants to try, check out the new openings we're most excited about right now.
Image credit: Jude Cohen