Andrea Taccone is a stickler for traditions. “The first Italians that came to Australia were cooking it the right way,” he says. “Like they would back home [in Italy]. But over generations we have come to this hybrid Italian-Australian cuisine, and I think that’s killed a lot of traditions.”
Taccone wants to revive those old-school ways at his new casual Newtown eatery Alba, which is focused not only on highlighting recipes from the southern peninsula of Salento, in Puglia (Italy’s “heel”), but also making as much as possible on-site.
The polpo a pignata is a good example – it’s marinated octopus slow-cooked in a large terracotta jar called a pignata. Back in the day, the octopus would be placed in the pignata, then covered in ashes and left to cook overnight in the fireplace.
“We take the same process of marinating and slow-cooking the octopus in the pignata,” explains Taccone. “While we don’t have a fireplace, we replicate the same idea in the oven where it’s exposed to constant heat, and this takes roughly nine hours.”
The King Street restaurant – named after Taccone’s 90-year-old grandmother, who flew in from Italy for the grand opening – also serves ciceri e tria, a pasta with chickpeas that comes from Lecce in Salento. Taccone recommends a Salentinan dessert, the pasticciotto (house-made shortcrust pastry filled with cream), as well as the zeppola (fried dough topped with cream and chocolate), which are popular in Naples.
There’s also a specials board that takes up an entire wall. Taccone uses it to share some of his family’s recipes, including his grandmother’s, which have been passed down in handwritten recipe books titled primi, secondi and dolci.
The wine list is strictly Italian, with all reds – mainly full-bodied – coming from Salento. The decorative farmhouse-style ceramic sets used to serve up the rustic dishes are also sourced from the region.
Mon to Thu 11.30am–10.30pm
Fri & Sat 11.30am–11.30pm