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Kate reviews: Piccino (and Quarters tags along)

Piccino
359 Canterbury Rd, Surrey Hills
www.piccino.melbourne

As long as I’ve known him, and to be honest, even before I knew him – Stephen Quartermain has been stalking me for the chance to tag along on a food review.

Of course, they are few and far between for me now, but when I recently got the chance to jump in the chair with Scorchy off climbing Everest, I figured if it delivers me long term serenity, I should probably just get it over with. So I trekked over to the leafy east to meet Quarters at his treasured local, Piccino in Surrey Hills.

There was a familiar feel about it straight away – that laid back ambiance, old fashioned warmth from staff, and an abundance of Italian goodies on display. Didn’t take long to work out this was run by the Scarpio family who previously owned Pure Italian in Balwyn North, a neighbourhood eatery I reviewed way back in 2012.

And what did I say about Pure Italian back then? “Every suburban shopping strip should have an Italian eatery with this much charm … there’s a wonderful relaxed feel to this family business, it certainly feels that locals have embraced it, and rightly so”.

Ditto, Piccino. They’ve done it again. As with Pure Italian, patriarch Carlo Scarpio is at the helm. An original Cafe e Cucina boy, he’s handing the mantle to daughter Zegna who has taken on the role of head chef.

It looks like a tight menu, but there’s an ever evolving list of specials on the blackboard, so there was plenty for us to choose from.

We started by sharing the weekly jaffle special – this week an Amatrichaffle. A simple but tasty combo of tomato, pancetta, caramelised onion, chilli and pecorino romano. Could’ve smashed four of them.

And just for a snack, we shared some fried calamari with Rex and Scorcher, it came with balsamic mayo and didn’t last long.

Quarters being the health fiend he is went straight for the Pizza fritta. Yes, roman-style pizza dough, made in-house, rested for 36-48 hours then shallow fried until lightly golden and crispy. It looked like a giant potato cake, and tasted just as good. This one was topped with prosciutto, fig and ricotta – so really was a lot lighter than it sounds.

I went straight for the eggplant parmigiana – and this one was true to the glorious specimens I tried in Italy. Fabulously simple – just the expected layers of char-grilled eggplant and mozzarella, topped with slow-cooked tomato sugo and fresh herbs from the garden.

Scorchy was told in no uncertain terms that the gnocchi was the most popular dish on the menu – so he was happy to oblige. Home-made and light, the starchy pillows were paired with a subtle saffron cream and pork sausage sauce. It honestly was superb.

Despite being on the specials menu, the fettucine osso buco ragù is a regular house favourite. Locally sourced beef shank, tomato and rosemary from the garden are slow cooked for three to four hours and plonked on a bed of fresh fettucine. Rexy demolished it.

So it’s terrific, classic, Italian cooking; but the biggest thing going for Piccino is the warm reception, the relaxed feel, the friendly staff, and ever-present buzz. It clearly already has a healthy following among locals, and it’s easy to see why.

You can pop in for breakfast (how about some Vodka chilli poached eggs with melted provolone), take away paninis or pastries for lunch; hang around after your pasta to enjoy house-made desserts; and BYO your own wine for just $7 corkage.

Piccino is one of those neighbourhood gems with the enviable combination of top quality cooking & first class friendliness. But be warned, once there you may run into Stephen Quartermain – you just need to decide if it’s worth the risk.

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