Stroll along the canals of Venice and you won’t go more than a few steps without hitting a bacaro serving cicchetti. The prepared bites are all over the island city, usually taking the form of little breads topped with sarde in saor (sardines with a sweet and sour onion dressing) and baccala mantecato (whipped salted cod) eaten before, after or for dinner.

At Osteria Polpo, which opened earlier this month on East Terrace, veteran restaurateur Paul Serafin specialises in these and other Venetian classics – still a rarity in Adelaide’s crowded Italian dining scene – like the traditional homestyle dishes he grew up eating.

“My mother ran a hotel in Italy and then she cooked here for the Caons – Primo and Giocondo – who ran the original Rigoni’s. So I guess that’s where my passion comes from – from her,” says Serafin, who also founded North Adelaide’s Flying Fig Deli and sandwich chain Stax. “She brought this book [of recipes] over on the boat with her and she referred to it quite often.”

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Her specialties from that cookbook – risotto with chicken livers, risi e bisi (brothy rice and peas) and bigoli in salsa (wholewheat spaghetti coated with an anchovy and onion sauce) – grace the menu here, alongside more familiar classics like spaghetti vongole with Goolwa pippies, another pasta dish with Port Lincoln prawns, and beef-shin ravioli with bone marrow, Parmigiano-Reggiano and sage butter sauce.

There are also some modern Australian interpretations on the menu, like beetroot carpaccio and kangaroo tartare served with saltbush, plus larger proteins like whole fish, steak, and braised beef rib with soft polenta.

The suave bar and dining room opened earlier this month in a partly heritage-listed site that’s also occupied by member organisation the Public Schools Club (public in the British sense, which means private). But the two venues aren’t connected.

The heritage setting has delivered a few bonuses for Serafin: it came with an upright piano, some chesterfields, beautiful vintage crockery and an open fireplace. Interior architect Patrick Caroscio (Design Think) didn’t have to do too much to create the warm, old-school Italian vibes the venue exudes. But he’s stained the existing timber panelling for a slightly moodier vibe, and added some brass trimmings, a white marble bar, and pops of heritage green. “I just need the canal out the front, rather than the car park,” jokes Serafin.

There are no narrow waterways nearby, but there is a verdant view overlooking Victoria Park, and a couple of olive trees out front – an ideal setting to nurse a Negroni or northern Italian wine in one hand and a bite-sized bready snack in the other.

Osteria Polpo
207 East Terrace, Adelaide

Hours:
Tue to Thu 11.30am–10pm
Fri & Sat 11.30am–11pm
Sun 11.30am–6pm

osteriapolpo.com.au
@osteriapolpo