From posh pasta to sweet treats like mama used to make, Sydney’s Italian dining scene is molto bene!
Ask any Sydneysider to nominate the home of the city’s best Italian food and the response will invariably be Norton Street at Leichhardt, across the Anzac Bridge, west of the CBD.
It’s true, Norton Street has long been the jewel in the crown of Sydney’s Italian dining scene, just as Stanley Street in East Sydney was before that.
But changing demographics and high rents have seen Norton Street become little more than a name on a street map, with nearby suburbs like Haberfield and Five Dock staking a claim as the home of Sydney’s best Italian food.
There are actually five distinct Italian hubs in the Harbour City: Leichhardt, Haberfield, Five Dock, East Sydney and Bondi.
When the sun goes down… the restaurants start heaving with people hungry for the finest pizza and pasta around.
While each community has its own storied past, you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who doesn’t agree that Ramsay Street at Haberfield is now Sydney’s real Little Italy.
Although small in size, Haberfield packs a real punch when it comes to traditional, authentic Italian fare.
Here, just 10km west of Sydney’s CBD, you’ll find Raffael’s Bakery where the queue is 20-deep on a Saturday morning; La Pasteria with its homemade pasta; Frank’s Fruit Market; the delightful nonnas working the deli inside Lamonica IGA; and the sweet treats and authentic coffee at Pasticceria Papa.
A stroll down through the streets of Haberfield is a culinary adventure, especially when the sun goes down and the restaurants start heaving with people hungry for the finest pizza and pasta around.
Despite our love for this enclave in Sydney’s inner west, the Italian fare found nearby at suburbs like Five Dock and Leichhardt, and even further afield at East Sydney and Bondi, is equally amore.
It’s hardly surprising then that Italian eateries featured prominently in the 2018 Australian Top Restaurant Awards published earlier this month.
Whether you’re after a crusty loaf or a strong Italian coffee, a piping hot bowl of al dente pasta or a wood-fired pizza, these neighbourhood favourites will not disappoint.
It’s no wonder Haberfield is now considered Sydney’s new Little Italy: not only is the food authentic, but around 24 per cent of residents claim Italian ancestry, according to the last census.
Stand at the corner of Dalhousie Street and Ramsay Street and you’ll find yourself at the epicentre of some of the best baked goods, deli meats and fresh pasta outside the mother country.
On the corner of this major intersection you’ll find Pasticceria Papa, highly-regarded for its baked ricotta cheesecakes. It also serves up every type of biscotti imaginable as well as the holy grail of cannoli: fresh crispy golden-fried shells piped with smooth, creamy ricotta.
Papa Pasticceria also has stores at Five Dock and Bondi Beach, and recently opened an Italian restaurant at its Haberfield store.
Head across the road and a few metres down the hill you’ll stumble upon Raffael’s Bakery, a family-owned business at 153 Ramsay Street that specialises in authentic stone-baked Italian bread. The smell of fresh baked bread should guide you if you get lost.
Come here on a Saturday morning and the queue is often out the door and up the street as locals try to get their hands on a fresh and crusty Pane di Casa loaf straight out of the wood-fired ovens.
The shelves are heaving with freshly baked loaves of every kind, as well as an impressive variety of focaccia with mouth-watering toppings, Nutella donuts, date scones and curious-shaped bread animals.
Come Easter, they also make what I consider to be the best hot cross buns you’re likely to taste with a sweet, sticky apricot glaze on top.
Head next door to the Lamonica IGA, a supermarket at 155 Ramsay St that was originally a skating rink and cinema. Look up from street level and you’ll notice the initials ‘HT’ in the stonework of the building’s 1912 facade, in reference to the old Haberfield Theatre.
Inside at the deli, the glass counter is bursting with fresh produce that includes buffalo mozzarella, prosciutto, salami, fragrant parmigiana and marinated olives. It’s really the closest thing you will find to a real Italian deli this side of the equator.
Take a ticket from the rickety old machine on the shelf and before long one of the friendly nonnas will call your number.
We usually can’t resist some finely sliced ham off the bone and a heaped serving of tissue-thin mortadella to accompany our fresh, crusty loaf.
With so much fresh produce defining Italian cooking – from basil and zucchini flowers to tomatoes and eggplant – you can be sure Frank’s Fruit Market at 94a Ramsay Street will have your every need covered. Sicilian-born Frank Bonfante and his wife Mary have been running this wonderful old-style greengrocer on Ramsay Street for 43 years.
When it comes to pizza and pasta, you’re really spoiled for choice in Haberfield.
If you’re looking to cook up your own feast, it’s hard to go past La Pasteria at 111 Ramsay Street with its impressive handmade pasta and sauces. Their fresh pappardelle is a notable favourite. La Pasteria has a retail shop on Ramsay Street and a factory outlet in Five Dock.
Peppe’s Pasta, at 151 Ramsay Street, also has a wonderful selection of fresh handmade pasta and pre-prepared ready meals including ravioli, tortellini and gnocchi.
On the restaurant front, La Disfida Enoteca Pizza (109 Ramsay St) is something of an institution and is best known for its pizzas. A large, brick, wood-fired oven dominates the bar area and is good theatre.
The restaurant is named after “La Disfida di Barletta” – a 16th-century fight between French and Italian knights and so many of its pizzas take their name from the conflict.
The menu includes pizzas like the French General La Motte (tomato, garlic, olive oil), the victorious Italian General Fieramosca (tomato, mozzarella, roasted capsicum, tuna, olives, capers, anchovies) and the southern Italian town where the battle took place Barletta (tomato, mozzarella, prosciutto, basil, pepper, olive oil).
The polenta chips with gorgonzola dipping sauce and linguine with baby clams and mussels are also a crowd favourite.
Other popular dining options include Il Goloso Ristorante Pizzera in the refurbished Haberfield Post Office. Straight opposite is Napoli in Bocca – an old-school red sauce joint with red and white checked tablecloths.
And at the corner of Ramsay and Dalhousie Streets you’ll find Dolcissimo, one of Haberfield’s best-known Italian restaurants serving an extensive list of favourites.
With one in five residents claiming Italian heritage, Five Dock and the neighbouring village of Wareemba are two of Sydney’s premier Italian neighbourhoods in the inner west.
In the 1930s, a significant number of Italian immigrants, specifically from the Aeolian Islands, (a volcanic island group off the coast the North coast of Sicily) moved to the area.
Every August, Five Dock holds its annual Ferragosto Street Festival, paying homage to the influences that the Aeolian people have had on the local community. (Ferragosto is a national holiday in Italy every August when the Catholic Church celebrates the Assumption of Mary).
Along the Great North Road, the main deli and dolci strip, you’ll find popular Italian restaurants, coffee shops and old-time delis. The two main delis here are Deli Mercato (107 Great North Rd) and Ranieri’s Continental Delicatessen (97 Great North Road).
Five Dock’s 39-year-old restaurant Filicudi (11 Ramsay Rd) is also as authentic as they come; from the cosy interior, adorned with posters of Italian landscapes, to the mouth-watering food that includes pizza and calzone and speciality dishes like slow braised baby octopus and veal scaloppini.
You’ll be spoiled for choice when it comes to great Italian coffee, with half a dozen cafes along Great North Road, including Bar Rizzo, Il Momento, Caffe Te Ria and Jada’s Café. Pasticceria Enrico Viscontini serves strong coffee and Italian desserts while the gelato counter at Cremeria De Luca is definitely hard to resist.
Leichhardt’s reputation as an Italian hub stretches back to WWII when migrants began moving into the once working-class suburb.
While it’s long been considered the place to go for traditional Italian food in Sydney, Norton Street and its Italian Forum (23 Norton St) have seen more bust than boom of late. It doesn’t help that many of the Italian restaurants at the Forum are also owned and managed by Greeks.
Bar Italia (169-171 Norton St) which is credited with introducing conservative Australian diners to the joy of Italian cuisine and coffee culture in the 1950s, is still going strong.
Capriccio Osteria (159 Norton St) is a casual, no-fuss spot that specialises in share plates and pizza, as well as pasta made on premise. La Botte D’Oro Restaurant, a relaxed traditional Italian restaurant on Marion St, is also worth visiting.
Further up the street near the Town Hall, Café Gioia (126a Norton St) is a reliable pizza restaurant and one of the first original wood-fired pizzerias in Sydney. It’s actually housed in a former BP petrol station (fully reconditioned and cleaned up of course).
Stanley Street in East Sydney near Darlinghurst was the centre of Sydney’s original Italian community in the 1950s and 1960s, and was also Sydney’s original “Little Italy”. To this day Stanley St is still a melting pot of coffee and culture.
On the corner of Crown and Stanley Streets you’ll find Bar Reggio serving delicious pizzas in a low key environment. It’s cheap-and-cheerful BYO with gallons of red-sauce and silky smooth pasta.
Around the corner is Bill & Toni’s (72-74 Stanley St) – an East Sydney landmark that’s been serving spaghetti bolognese in a homely, no-frills environment since 1965.
Bill & Toni’s is actually remembered for the complimentary bread, iceberg lettuce and orange cordial that accompanies every dish. While the main restaurant is upstairs, downstairs you’ll find the baristas serving strong shots of Arabica coffee and cannoli to happy regulars.
Trovata (76 Stanley St) has long been one of my favourites in East Sydney with its rich pasta, creamy risotto and fresh seafood constant crowd pleasers. The restaurant recently closed for a major refurb but the owners promise to come back bigger and better than ever.
Another icon is Beppi’s, an upscale Italian restaurant that first opened its doors at the corner of Stanley and Yurong Streets in 1956. It’s the only restaurant to appear in every edition of The Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide under the same management.
Frank Sinatra, Billy Joel, Mick Jagger and Rihanna have all been customers here. It is also a favourite among numerous politicians including John Howard, Bob Hawke and Julie Bishop. It’s discreet cellar restaurant was reportedly a favourite lunchtime meeting place for the late Kerry Packer.
While most people trek to Bondi in Sydney’s eastern suburbs for the sun and the sand, its burgeoning Italian food scene is also proving to be a people magnet.
The suburb has had a red and green makeover in recent years with Haberfield’s Pasticceria Papa opening there along with Gelato Messina, the celebrated gelato shop also found in other parts of the city.
On the dining front, established locals like Bondi Trattoria (34 Campbell Parade), with its hilltop views of Bondi Beach, and Pompei’s (126-130 Roscoe St) now compete with relative newcomers like Da Orazio Pizza + Porchetta (75-79 Hall St) with it’s industrial vibe and its neighbour A Tavola (75-79 Hall St).
Drop us a line and let us know your favourite Italian neighbourhood in Sydney.