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IMG_6833There are many pleas­ures to be had down dark alley­ways in New­town, but few of them are leg­al. One excep­tion has always been the nar­row arcade off Rid­di­ford Street, which has been home to a string of European res­taur­ants over the dec­ades, most not­ably (for those with long memor­ies) The Swiss Chalet. It is into this dim defile that Cicio Cacio has brought some Medi­ter­ranean cheer.

The decor has changed little from pre­vi­ous incarn­a­tions, its rus­tic tim­bers sug­gest­ing a more alpine cuisine than the chef’s Roman ori­gins would lead one to expect. The kitsch has been toned down slightly, without sac­ri­fi­cing Gemüt­lich­keit, for a con­vivi­al yet unfussy atmo­sphere. The menu itself has been stripped down to a single page each for food and wine. House wines are offered by the glass and carafe, and while I often find cheap Itali­an white wines one-dimen­sion­al and mean, the Sicili­an Grillo was rel­at­ively friendly to New World pal­ates and def­in­itely friendly to the wallet.

To start, my com­pan­ion chose tagliolini alla gri­cia, a main­stay of the Roman rep­er­toire, which includes gun­ciale (cured pork jowl) and pecorino. This was sur­pris­ingly del­ic­ate for what’s essen­tially cheesy bacon pasta, but gun­ciale has its own unique fla­vour, and com­bined with the sharp­ness of the finely shaved pecorino it was light and piquant. My fettu­cine al ragù was not as subtle, but more than made up for it with deep fla­vours and a hearty tex­ture of minced beef.

My meaty odys­sey con­tin­ued with sal­sicce fatte in casa de Emilio, and Emilio cer­tainly makes fine saus­ages. The dish was exactly as described on the menu: two saus­ages, no more, no less, served sizz­ling on a hot­plate. But they were sub­stan­tial and burst­ing with juici­ness, and at $15 rep­res­en­ted good value. They won’t con­sti­tute a meal on their own, but since $9 gets you a hefty serving of sil­ver­beet gratin and $5 a good por­tion of more­ish roast pota­toes, order­ing sides won’t blow the budget.

But it was the fish of the day that was the star. A gigant­ic gurn­ard pouted dis­ap­prov­ingly yet allur­ingly from its met­al plat­ter, unadorned apart from a sprink­ling of roughly chopped flat-leafed pars­ley. Its flesh par­ted eas­ily from the bones, yet remained meaty and firm, with fla­vours redol­ent of the sea… as well as of the gen­er­ous sloshes of wine, lem­on juice and but­ter in which it was cooked. The bal­ance was finely judged and irres­ist­ible: per­fectly simple and simply perfect.

Inspired by the cheery hos­pit­al­ity of the staff, we found room for dessert. The tiram­isu was a text­book rendi­tion, if unspec­tac­u­lar. That sounds like faint praise, but even a mediocre tiram­isu is still bet­ter than most things you get to put in your mouth every day. There was no way, how­ever, that it could out­shine the glor­i­ous pan­nacotta. It’s trite to describe a good pan­nacotta as ‘silky’, so per­haps the finest and most del­ic­ate silks should be described as ‘pan­nacot­taish’. That lus­cious tex­ture was cut by fresh orange slices, giv­en crunchy con­trast by jew­el-like pista­chios, and drenched in an unc­tu­ous sauce that was almost car­nal in its earthy sweet­ness. The staff refused to give up their secrets, except to let on that it con­tained honey and spice as well as syr­up. Like the res­taur­ant itself, it man­aged to be simple yet indulgent.



Address: 167 Rid­di­ford Street, Newtown

Phone: 04 380 1100

Cost: Entrées $11–17; mains $15–29.50

Open: Tue–Sun 5pm–11pm

Food: Itali­an

Drink: Per­oni $7; Grillo Lamura (house white) $6/glass, $24/500ml carafe[/warning]