“There’s just something about the variety of cheese that attracts people,” says Liam O’Driscoll, head chef at cheese-loving Sydney restaurant Big Poppa’s. “You’ve got soft, stinky, hard, salty Italian cheeses, and then all the different milks too,” he says. “It’s slightly addictive.”

O’Driscoll’s affinity with cheese informed a unique collaboration with CBD bar Kittyhawk, on a European-inspired feast held at the Broadsheet Restaurant.

The two venues curated a three-course meal. Each dish was served with a different type of cheese accompanied by a complementary cocktail.

The unique pairing was made easier by a pre-existing relationship between the two venues. Kittyhawk’s Andrew Walters refers to the combination as “one big family”.

“We often roll down to Big Poppa’s for a bite to eat after work,” says Walters. “[If not] they’ll be in here having a few drinks.”

More than half of the Big Poppa’s menu contains cheese – something O’Driscoll says is natural for a restaurant with a strong Italian focus.

“An Italian would never have pasta without cheese, unless it’s seafood,” he says. “We like to incorporate cheese in many of our dishes, so we chose a different one for our entrée, main and dessert.”

To begin the feast, Big Poppa’s served a stracciatella and asparagus dish with pangrattato (Italian breadcrumbs with herbs, lemon zest and garlic), spice salt and blood-plum vinegar. Stracciatella is a type of Italian cheese curd made with buffalo milk – something O’Driscoll says made an ideal light introduction to the night.

“We didn’t want to start off with anything pungent,” he says. “Rather a soft and creamy cheese, with a slight sweetness and salty taste that’s easy to eat.”

To accompany the delicate and creamy flavours in the entrée, Kittyhawk served its Phillip Lane cocktail, comprising gin, bianco vermouth, and lemon juice with a kiwi, grape and lemon-thyme reduction. Like Big Poppa’s entrée, Walters says the idea of the cocktail was to ease into the meal.

“The flavours in the drink created a light and fragrant introduction,” says Walters. “We didn’t want to smash everyone’s palate out of the park in the first drink. I think this complemented the asparagus dish rather well.”

For the main, Big Poppa’s served hand-cut pappardelle (broad and flat ribbon-like pasta) with lamb shoulder ragu, sprinkled with Parmigiano-Reggiano on top.

“Most people would pair the ragu dish with a nice Barossa shiraz,” says Walters. “So we ran with this idea for our cocktail.” Walters paired the meal with Kittyhawk’s Magpie cocktail, made with dark Ron Zacapa 23 rum, shiraz, apricot brandy, lemon juice and lemon oleo saccharum (a sugared oil), finished with fluffy egg white.

For dessert, Big Poppa’s played with sweet and savoury flavours, serving a mousse made from goat’s milk, accompanied by candied walnuts, yellow box honey, thyme and pane guttiau (Sardinian flaky crisp bread).

“We used Robiola, which is a soft, Italian goat’s milk cheese with a fudge-like sweetness and punch,” says O’Driscoll. “Nuts were added for earthiness and crunch, and honey and thyme to add sweetness and a herby zing.”

To finish the night, Kittyhawk served one of their crowd favourites, The Old Grogram, which involved a fiery flame component.

“The Old Grogram is our highest selling drink,” says Walters. “Even when we take it off the menu.”

The drink consisted of house-spiced rum with a stout reduction, lemon juice and a touch of brown sugar. It was then shaken and served on the rocks with a cinnamon quill to garnish.

“For a bit of theatre we used a big flame to burn the cinnamon quill and fill the room with dark cocoa, caramel and brown sugar aromas,” says Walters.

Here’s the recipe for Big Poppa’s hand-cut pappardelle with lamb shoulder ragu.

Hand-Cut Pappardelle with Lamb Shoulder Ragu
Serves 6–8

Lamb Shoulder Ragu

Ingredients
1 large brown onion, peeled
2 celery sticks
2 carrots, peeled
6 cloves garlic, peeled
2 sprigs rosemary, leaves removed from stem
6 sprigs thyme, leaves removed from stem
2kg lamb shoulder, diced
400ml good-quality red wine
500ml beef stock
200ml extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Method
Place onion, celery, carrot, garlic, rosemary and thyme into food processor and blitz until finely chopped (almost a paste). If you don’t have a food processor, finely chop all vegetables with a sharp kitchen knife. Set aside. In a deep, heavy-based pot, brown the lamb in batches using half the oil, making sure to season with salt and pepper as you go. Remove meat to a bowl and set aside. In the same pot, add the remaining oil and sauté vegetables and herbs over a medium heat until soft. Add lamb back to pot and bring up the heat. Add red wine and, over medium heat, reduce to half. Add beef stock and a little water if needed just to cover meat Bring to a boil then turn down to a low simmer and cook for 3 to 4 hours (making sure to keep an eye on the liquid, top up with a little water if looking too dry) or until meat is soft and easily pulled apart with a fork.

Hand-cut Pappardelle

Ingredients
500g ’00’ flour or plain flour plus a little extra for rolling
3 whole eggs
4 egg yolks
20ml olive oil
Pinch of salt
(This should yield you 6 to8 100g portions)

Method
Place all ingredients into bowl of kitchen mixer with dough hook attachment and mix on low speed, setting for around 4 minutes or until dough starts to ball. If you don’t have a kitchen mixer or food processor place the flour on a board or in a bowl. Make a well in the centre and add the eggs, oil and salt. Using the tips of your fingers, mix the eggs with the flour, incorporating a little at a time, until everything is combined. Remove dough to a lightly floured bench and knead until it comes together and has a uniform consistency (the dough should spring back a little if pressed with thumb). Wrap tight in cling film and place in fridge for 30 min. Remove from fridge and rest dough for 20 min. Unwrap and cut into 4 pieces. On a lightly floured bench roll out each piece with a rolling pin. Take 1 piece of rolled out dough and feed through pasta machine on setting 10. Continue to feed dough through roller, decreasing the setting by 1 mark at a time until you reach the 0 setting. Lightly dust finished pasta sheet at set aside. Repeat process until all sheets are rolled out. Stack sheets on top of each other and slice with a sharp knife into 2–3cm strips. Set cut pasta aside covered with tea towel until ready to cook.

To serve

Ingredients for serving
200g unsalted butter
250g block Parmigiano-Reggiano, for grating
Salt and pepper to taste

Method
Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil and cook pasta in batches (about 300g pasta per batch) for around 3 minutes or until soft to the bite (fresh pasta should be cook soft unlike dried pasta which is served al dente). While the first batch of pasta is cooking, heat 3 cups of the lamb ragu in a large heavy-based saucepan, add 3tbsp butter, add drained pasta and toss to coat with ragu. Season to taste. Divide between individual bowls and grate Parmigiano-Reggiano over each portion. Repeat until all pasta has been cooked.

This dinner event and article were created to help celebrate the best of Europe, in partnership with Holden Astra – 2016 European Car of the Year.