I must have elusive Roman heritage hiding somewhere in an otherwise uninspired cockney family tree. Vespa’s have induced an impulsive head turning reflex, Leonardo Da Vinci is my historical hero and, since becoming closely acquainted with Gelato, Ice-cream has seemed somewhat redundant. It is unquestionably my favourite cuisine and I make a pretty strong point of sampling the food of every Italian restaurant I walk past, no matter the geographic location. Last night at L’unico in Kingston, I had the best Italian dining experience of my life.
So good was the food, service and atmosphere I seriously considered using my hypothetical travel-to-Italy nest egg to fund weekly dining sessions at L’unico as an economically viable solution to international exploration.
Crossing the threshold from frost bitten Canberra to sun kissed Tuscany through wooden doors infused with character, all I could do was gawk in astonishment – this place looked amazing! The earthen scent of the two rustic wooden bars was sedating coupled with the glowing warmth pulsing from the unmistakeable dome of a wood fired pizza oven. Bustling hand stitched bouquets of dried chilli’s hang from the walls, ornate golden frames encompass Italian oil paintings channelling the style of high renaissance romanticism and, as I sat down in my high backed, plush merlot upholstered, brass studded wooden chair – a chandelier reminiscent of a falling firework display captured the remainder of my attention. It was the perfect amalgamation of ornate traditionalism and clean contemporary class, which confidently set the tone for the entire evening.
Our meal (unbelievable in its divinity) began with a traditional wood fired Pizza called The “Repvbblica.” Anointed gloriously with garlic, oregano, parsley, golden bubbling parmesan cheese and fiery flashes of fresh chilli, it arrived presented on a scrubbed wooden pizza paddle. My excitement could hardly be contained upon immediately inverting my piece to reveal the charred and blackened base of a truly authentic and freshly prepared dough. Tantalisingly crispy to bite and luxuriously aerated to savour, the chilli added a light but convincingly playful jab to the throat, surmising to a gently encompassing grasp via the warmly sulphurous addition of garlic. The playful confetti of shredded parsley kept the dish friendly, upholding it’s hail Mary reputation to the potentially fatal sin of garlic breath.
Our next entree involved a juvenile glee evoked solely by streams of gooey, oozing Gorgonzola cheese weeping from crumbed mushrooms sitting in a still pond of vibrantly intangible capsicum foam. What fun. The salty flowing tang of the gorgonzola is at once complemented and offset by the sweet smokiness of the foam, with the viscous crackling mushroom crumb providing a delightful textural integrity.
Confit duck and porcini mushroom aranchini followed. Each perfectly cooked risotto ball came topped with a single leaf of parsley captaining a cherry tomato canoe and, if you closed your eyes momentarily to inhale the damp, earthy aroma, you could almost believe you were up at the crack of dawn, strolling through dewy Italian grass with a basket hooked idealistically over one forearm.
My favourite Entree of the night soon made its way to our table. Offering seared, lime salted fresh Australian Scallops wrapped in prosciutto di san Daniele, I couldn’t help but feel a heightened Venus Di Milo induced sensuality as I picked the tender morsels from their pearlescent and naturally imperfect asymmetric shells. The prosciutto was thin enough to easily distinguish one salty protein from the other, with the crisp bacon underpinning the dominant the oh-so lusciously creamy texture of the juicy and understandably coveted shell fish manifestation.
Lastly we were presented with the veal and prosciutto wrapped asparagus with sage butter sauce. The crisp crunch provided by fresh stalks of asparagus swaddled in their contrastingly sweet and tender veal blankets reverberated with the first bite. Sage butter sauce acted as the perfect celebrant, marrying the classic combination of flavours to provide a deliciously harmonious mouthful.
Poking my head up between entrees, main courses and sips of sherbety prosecco, I watched L’unico’s owner, Joe, tossing stretching and aerating fresh pizza bases by the traditional wood-fired oven, which (in case you’re wondering, as I was) has been glowing constantly for four years.
The five mains rolled out with perfect timing, presenting mouth-watering offerings of twice cooked duck Maryland with sweet orange glaze, tender thin veal pan fried with mushrooms, shallots, demi glaze & marsala, crispy baked pork belly brushed with house-made caramel, Gnocchi rabbit and, my favourite of the night, duck ravioli.
The twice cooked duck Maryland, so tender in nature it almost shredded itself from the bone, was accompanied by some golden cubes of roast potato and dark viridian leaves of wilted spinach, which became laden with the same sweet, citrus nectar coagulatively glazing our juicy duck.
Tender thin Veal pan-fried with mushrooms, shallots, garlic, demi glaze and marsala was stellar. If at all possible, the slim steaks of salivatingly seasoned veal had a degree of tenderness higher than that of the already perfectly pliable mushrooms, melting to a creamy haven when consumed with its fluid marsala counterpart.
The crispy baked pork belly was an achingly beautiful, glistening bronze slab emanating an alluring siren song to my transfixed utensils. The plate-coating caramel was the best contextually savoury sauce I’ve ever had the fortune to try and, paired with the side salad of juicy watermelon cubes, spritely rocket, crumbly fetta and red onion slithers… well, I was speechless with ecstasy.
The Gnocchi rabbit screams winter comfort, with the sedating satisfying flavours of potato, parmesan, tomato, celery and braised rabbit made all the more homely by the chunky rustic nature of the flavour infused vegetables. Presented in a charming terracotta pot, I may even have begun to purr in contentment.
My favourite main was the last I tried (making room for this was a cinch) – Duck ravioli. Consisting of an oven baked roast duck breast with orange and ginger filling, sandwiched between squares of homemade pasta, tossed through burnt butter sauce with sage and almond topped with crisp ribbons of golden potato – it was a sweet, savoury satisfying pillow of pure spiced carbohydrate heaven. I continued through the dish on impulse, with the nutty veil of almond flakes exhuming the sweet meaty textures of the citrusy, gingered duck.
Both desserts were deliciously moreish, with a sweet desert pizza topped by baked banana, caramel sauce and panacotta gelato, as well as a beautifully presented tiramisu making their way to our welcoming table.
With three chefs from Italy collaborating with owner Joe to create the menu, it’s little wonder L’unico is the only restaurant in Canberra (and one of only 14 nationally) to receive endorsement by Academia Italian Della Cucina in Milan.
We finished the night with exclusive island oasis cocktails (Pina-Coladas, to be exact) – and they’re only $10 on a Thursday evening. If you’re looking for a weekend lunch L’unico also do “Spuntino Sunday” which is an Italian grazing menu featuring all the chef’s signature dishes (such as the scallops, wrapped asparagus, gorgonzola mushrooms and veal mentioned above!) for only $49 per person.
I could go on for pages more – but I’ll leave the rest for you to experience. L’unico on Kennedy street in Kingston, I can’t recommend it highly enough.