Sydney’s Inner West is a trove of culinary gems. The cafés, pubs and restaurants here all have something unique to offer, and with its authentic Italian food, ReccoLab Cucina Italiana in Rozelle does just that.
Taking its name from owner Antonio Zambarelli’s hometown of Recco on the Italian Riviera, ReccoLab Cucina Italiana serves up the most authentic Ligurian food you’ll find this side of Genoa.
Fresh and forthright, with its bright orange Aperol umbrellas marking its territory on the corner, ReccoLab sets itself up to be the complete Italian experience.
Indeed, you’d be forgiven for thinking you’d somehow been transported to Italy as you enter. With an all-Italian staff, authentic pizza oven, an open kitchen making pasta, focaccia and pizza dough… it really feels like you’re on the Continent.
ReccoLab Cucina Italiana
Raised above the footpath, the restaurant looks down from its corner spot and al fresco seating gives the whole entrance a piazza-like vibe. There’s even a gelato cart Aperol spritz bar parked outside.
The casual-dining café style of the front of ReccoLab lends an equally real sense of being in Italy. It would be easy to imagine this place on the corner of any modern northern Italian town, from Genoa to Trieste.
Further inside and past the front bar, ReccoLab becomes a more formal dinner venue, though still managing the relaxed air of an Italian restaurant. The clientele is a broad mix – from groups of friends, families with kids, couples out for a romantic meal – exactly like in Italy.
And there’s a familiarity to the service that takes us back to Italy as well.
ReccoLab – the food
Aside from the vibe and décor, ReccoLab clearly prides itself not only on the quality of its food, but its authenticity. There are items on this menu that you’re not likely to find anywhere other than in Italy itself.
There are some dishes here you’d be lucky to find anywhere other than the region of Liguria in north-western Italy.
Starting things off, the frittura – fried calamari, prawns and zucchini – were delicious. The batter was light and salty, and the seafood was tender yet crispy.
We also ordered vitello tonnato, a dish you really don’t see very often. In fact I’ve only had it once before when our Italian friends made it for a party.
It’s an unusual dish that doesn’t translate very well. It’s thinly-sliced slow-cooked veal with tinned tuna in a homemade mayonnaise sauce. Sounds strange, doesn’t it? But I tell you what, it’s delicious.
ReccoLab adds a few extra touches like caper berries, radicchio and celery, but even without these additions, it’s so good. If you ever see it on a menu, order it immediately.
Focaccia col formaggio di ReccoLab
We couldn’t not try ReccoLab’s pride and joy, the very Ligurian focaccia col formaggio. And we doubled down on local flavour with the pesto Genovese topping.
This is truly a dish you’ll only ever find in Liguria – and here. It’s superb. Two incredibly thin layers of focaccia bread – made in house – with imported Ligurian stracchino cheese in the middle. This cheese is one of our favourites. When it gets to room temperature, it melts to almost a dip consistency. It’s amazing.
On top, the kitchen spread a layer of delicious, rich, velvety Genovese pesto and sliced the whole thing into bite-size pieces – not unlike a Turkish gozleme.
After our Aperol spritz, we looked over the wine list. There’s a nicely curated range of Italian and domestic wine on offer here. With consideration of her seafood main that was coming, Christina chose a dry white from Abruzzo. This was a pecorino – a grape variety we thought was cheese. We were wrong.
With a rich, meaty dish on its way to me, I chose a substantial red – a negroamaro – from Puglia, which has become one of our favourite parts of Italy. If you want to find out more about Puglia, click here.
Primi e Secondi
It took us a long time to decide what to order for our main courses – and not just because we were already feeling quite full.
Christina ordered the spaghettone verace or ‘honest spaghetti’ roughly translated. The spaghettone, which is made in-house, is a larger version of regular spaghetti, making it a more satisfying dish.
A simple dish – hence the name, the spaghettone came with pipis, a touch of chilli, garlic, white wine, and plenty of butter and parsley. Elegant in spite of its simplicity, and a generous serve too.
I decided to have something heartier than that. Ever since Christina’s dad introduced me to the wonders brasato di guanciale di manzo many years ago, I’ve always ordered it when I see it on a menu.
But what is brasato di guanciale di manzo? Slow-cooked beef cheeks.
These (because you get two!) at ReccoLab were cut-with-your-fork tender and incredibly flavoursome. Marinated in red wine and served with mustard mash, roasted fennel and glazed carrot, this is exactly the dish you want when a cold southerly’s blowing.
It’s always hard to hand back dessert menus without an order, even after all we’d just eaten. As a compromise with our tightening waistbands, we thought we’d share a sweet. We especially couldn’t go past what Christina had spotted: Cremino.
This dessert is an expression of a classic layered coffee and nut chocolate from Piedmont in northern Italy.
Layers of salted pistachio gelato, meringue, hazelnut biscuit and coffee chocolate make this honestly the best dessert I’ve ever had. It’s incredible. So much flavour, so much texture… when you come to ReccoLab, you must order it.
ReccoLab Cucina Italiana
Corner of Terry Street and Nagurra Place,
Don’t forget the pizza
It would be wrong of us not to mention ReccoLab’s pizza. Apart from the full a la carte dining they offer here, you can also order from their extensive pizza menu.
The dough, like their pasta, is all made in house, and the large wood-fired oven at the front of the restaurant does the rest. The pizzas are really popular and look amazing. We’ll have to come back to try them out.
In fact, every Tuesday in the winter, ReccoLab has Giro Pizza – all-you-can-eat pizza for $20 per person and $10 Aperol spritz all night too.
From the service to the serving sizes, the atmosphere to the food itself, this restaurant is a little taste of Italy on the streets of Sydney.