It’s not every day that when you walk into a restaurant you are greeted with ‘Ciao Bella!’ as the waiters chatter with each other in rapid-fire Italian.
Walking into Hampton Street’s La Svolta, it seems as if you’ve stepped right into the local family restaurant in Naples, and that’s exactly what they’re aiming for. Owners Valerio Calabro and Giuesepe 'Pino' Russo, both native Italians, have worked hard to bring an authentic Italian dining experience to all who enter La Svolta’s doors.
The space is open and warm, with timber furniture and exposed brick walls that keep in the heat and the pungent smells of garlic and tomato wafting from the kitchen. Speaking of which, the kitchen itself expands the entire length of the wall, making us feel like we’re part of the action. The walls have been painted in chalkboard black and daily specials, desserts and messages are scrawled across the space in white chalk.
In the centre of the kitchen and in full view of the restaurant floor is the crown jewel of all pizzerias: the glowing mouth of a woodfire pizza oven. With the chaos of a working kitchen echoing throughout the buzzing space and warmth emanating from the large brick oven, you couldn’t blame us for feeling as if we’re sitting in the La Svolta family home.
The menu consists of all you would expect from an Italian fare, with an emphasis on authenticity and basic goodness of ingredients. There’s a variety of antipasti available to share, heart-warming pasta favourites including homemade pappardelle with slow cooked ragu of lamb and woodfire-baked gnocchi with tomato and mozzarella.
But the real hero of this menu has to be the smoky, thin and crisp-based pizzas that seem to be in endless supply. Winners of the 2012 Best Pizzeria at the Melbourne Pizza Festival, La Svolta knows pizza. With your choice of Pizza Rosso (tomato based) or Pizza Bianca (olive oil and garlic base), there’s a combination for everyone. Our pick? The Miss Italia – fior di latte mozzarella, taleggio cheese, pancetta and rocket.
At the heart of the La Svolta experience is their food philosophy: ‘mangiare e felicita’ (eating is happiness). Looking down at our full bellies and empty plates, we’d have to agree.