Puttanesca is a pasta sauce with a rich history. Often associated with Naples and Rome, it is infamously said to have been made by sex workers during World War II as a way to lure in customers.
Now this relatively modern red sauce gives its name to the new restaurant in the Clifton Hotel at Kew, Puttanesca by Guy Grossi, which opened earlier this month.
Partnering with hospitality group Public (behind Sydney hotspots Maybe Sammy and The Strand Hotel), Grossi has revived the 19th-century pub’s bones with Italian flourishes like sunset-coloured terrazzo and posters for films starring Sophia Loren, an Oscar-winning icon of cinema who Grossi regards as the pub’s matriarch.
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The dining room references not just the sauce, but the hotel’s colourful past. Grossi says the pub had a history of “ladies of the night” and was a topless bar at one point. “We were reminded of the sauce, the puttanesca, which is ‘the whores’ sauce’, and we thought it was a nice little nod to the history of the pub,” he adds.
The menu is designed for familiarity and comfort. The breaded chicken cotoletta can be made “parmigiana-style”, meaning it comes topped with mozzarella and tomatoes, while a riff on the classic pub burger sees polpette (Italian meatballs in a tomato sauce) sandwiched in a ciabatta roll.
Favourites from Grossi’s many other spots pop up on the menu, too. The bolognaise and salted ricotta jaffle of Arlechin fame returns as a front-bar snack. Grossi’s breadcrumb-crusted, slow-cooked “Papa’s lamb”, from Amalfi-inspired Brisbane diner Settimo, shines on the secondi menu. And regulars of the CBD’s Ombra Salumi will recognise one of Grossi’s favourites, the vongole pizza, made using clams and a reduction made from the juice that runs out of the molluscs when they’re opened. “It’s quite divine actually,” he says of the pizza.
The signature puttanesca sauce – a blend of San Marzano tomatoes, anchovies, garlic, capers and olives – is served on top of cured kingfish, spaghetti, and pizzas made from slow-fermented dough. It even pops up in a cocktail made using Vecchia Romagna brandy; Cherry Heering liqueur and rosso vermouth. “Vecchia Romagna is like an Italian cognac – it’s big and spicy and it gives you that puttanesca hit.”
For Grossi, who has lived in Kew for the past two decades, reviving the Clifton Hotel is a bit like coming home, and he’s hoping others will follow. “Having something like this in the area is good for the suburb and hopefully it’ll attract great traders to come along and do other things here,” he says. “There’s a bit of a selfish interest as well – we want the area to be lovely.”