Elegant. It’s a word I’ve rarely found truly applicable where Italian food is concerned, but there is no better way to describe what Italian & Sons has achieved with its pasta dishes. With its seemingly simple ingredients, easily predictable base and some of the most common pastas in the tree of pasta genus, it deftly sidesteps the banally pompous tomato sauce and lavish, often spendthrift embellishments that have littered the pasta landscape since the recorded history of Italian gastronomy in Australia.
In my recent visit to this celebrated joint, I was immediately captivated by their less-is-more ethos in the making of dishes. It can hardly be said that achieving elegance in a pasta dish is an arduous task, especially when one is surrounded by the luxury of limitless and extravagant ingredients. But achieving that same elegance, with only the simplest of ingredients one could possibly imagine getting on that weekly trip to a nearby supermarket, is certainly something scarcely heard of. It is for this reason I admit with shame, that when I asked their kind waitress for the signature spaghetti alla carbonara, I naïvely expected a typical spaghetti resting in that popular base made of ham, egg and cream.
But didn’t all the great Italian masterchefs once say “non tutte le ciambelle riescono col buco”? Literally: “not all donuts come out with a hole”, or, colloquially, “life can be full of surprises”. As the pasta was served and my naïve imagination was proven wrong, the dish’s intelligent simplicity prevailed. At first glance, this spaghetti alla carbonara, a creamy, beige pasta looks like any other carbonara dish. But its unassuming colour hides something far less commonplace: the black pepper spaghetti, cured pork cheek and egg yolk. The endearing, if slightly forced classic cream sauce reinforces the well-known sensibilities of carbonara, but the half-cooked egg yolk and savoury asparagus also keep me from getting fully absorbed in the usual character of the cream sauce. The feeling of warmth and energy is also evident in every aspect of this dish, from the clever black pepper spaghetti served straight after it is cooked, to the lovingly detailed tastes of finely piled ingredients. But its biggest success really has to be the attainment of that elegance through simplicity.
Conclusion? It is quite ridiculous what good pasta dishes you can get in Canberra at the moment.