There’s something about discovering an incredible place to eat that’s so hidden you’d never find it if you were looking for it.
We love this aspect of travelling, but it’s so funny when it happens on your own doorstep.
It does though, and it’s starting to happen more and more in Sydney. The advent of small bars and pop-up restaurants has encouraged the ‘hidden-gem’ ethos Sydneysiders are now embracing.
Sadly, this restaurant is now closed permanently, but please read on to see what makes a Napolitano pizza different from the rest.
Tucked away at the back of a little arcade in Neutral Bay is one such gem. Spakka-Napoli is a cracker of a restaurant, and it takes us immediately back to Naples, where we hunted out local places just like this one.
As we walk in, the rich smells from a wood fired pizza oven greets us almost as warmly as does Danny – one the owners of Spakka-Napoli. Meanwhile, his business partner, best mate and head chef, Luigi (or Gigi to friends), gets started on our antipasto plate.
Generous piles of freshly sliced salami, prosciutto, and thick jamon, chunks of soft buffalo mozzarella and basil and rocket salad arrive on our table. The gluten-free bread we ask for instead of the wood fire focaccia is good too.
Danny leads us through the menu and the specials – all of which I’d eat given the chance. There’s a selection of tapas items to start with, but because we’ve already decided to relive our favourite moments in Naples and try the pizzas, we forgo the entrées.
I’m still thinking about my missed meatballs slow cooked in classic tomato sauce opportunity though.
For our pizzas, Mrs R orders the classic Napoletana on a gluten-free base and I just have to go for the pizza on the specials menu: a half-margarita half-ricotta-calzone stroke of genius.
Mrs Romance’s gluten-free base is ok but the toppings are just as they should be. Juicy olives, a rich tomato sauce, stringy mozzarella and just the right amount of anchovy.
My pizza is a work of art. The base (not gluten-free) is soft but not wet in the middle and the edges are crispy and delicious. The margarita part allows me to taste the cheese, tomato sauce and the soft middle of pizza base, while the calzone section is crammed full of fresh ricotta, mozzarella, ham and tomato. It’s unbelievable.
We’re also lucky enough to see the Spakka-Napoli special pizza. Some places do a 50cm- or 100cm-long square pizza. Spakka-Napoli do a 52cm-diameter monster. You can have up to three different types of topping on it and it’s a perfect sharing pizza.
However, if you’re game, you can take up the Spakka challenge of eating the whole thing in under an hour and drink a jug of beer and you pay nothing. I must say, if it’s as tasty as my pizza is, I’ll happily take up the gauntlet.
We chat to Danny and Gigi about where the restaurant has come from.
After having travelled all over the world and living in three different countries, Danny finally settled in Sydney, much to his mama’s chagrin. He’s been in the hospitality industry for many years, and that shows in his natural ability to make his customers feel welcome.
He and Gigi finally fulfilled their dream of opening this – a restaurant that reflects their Napolitano heritage in December 2013.
Part of that heritage should always be amazing pizzas. And we think we’ve found out why they’re so good here at Spakka-Napoli.
Gigi is a qualified chemist and he’s applied his molecular knowledge to making the best darn pizza dough I’ve ever tasted.
“It’s all in the yeast,” Gigi explains. “We use a special type of natural yeast and you have to take care of it – it’s like a baby. You have to feed it all the time with more flour and water or it dies. Then you have to start again, which takes another three weeks.”
Gigi is careful not to produce the much thicker, softer dough popular in Naples but not preferred here. The Roman style of very thin and incredibly crispy base is what people in Sydney are used to.
He has balanced the two styles to create a delicious crispy edge with a soft absorbent middle that’s not too thick and bready. It’s an excellent compromise.
This place really is something. It’s an ideal place for dinner whenever you feel like traditional quality Naples-style cuisine with whoever you want to eat with.
Spakka-Napoli gets its name from the ancient Roman road ‘Spaccanapoli’ that runs straight through this southern Italian city, essentially slicing it in half. It means literally ‘splitter of Naples’.
Image courtesy of cntraveller.com
Open: Sunday – Thursday: 6pm – 10pm, Friday – Saturday: 6pm – 10.30pm*
*This restaurant is now permanently closed.
Find Spakka-Napoli at the end of The Grove Arcade – just after Young Street heading north on Military Road. Parking and access also available via Woolworths around the back.
Where’s your favourite Italian restaurant? What pizza base do you prefer – thick and soft Neapolitan or thin and crispy Roman?