Ask most locals about Sydney’s home of Italian and the response will invariably be Norton Street, Leichhardt. But apart from a few authentic experiences – the espresso (and the old locals) at Bar Sport, the gelato at Bar Italia and a cutthroat shave at Vince’s Barber – Norton Street has lost some of its Italian spark.
Instead, you need to travel down the road to Haberfield, Sydney’s true Little Italy. And we do mean little. Blink and you might easily miss the cluster of pasticcerias, restaurants and providores that dot the main intersection.
Nonetheless, this is a suburb that’s all about the food. Even the local hardware store has a contraption for making passata perched in the front window. So to get the most out of your visit, first make a choice: do you pick up some fresh pasta, bread and antipasti and do it all yourself, or do you let someone else do the work for you? We suggest a little of both. Bring an empty stomach and the biggest basket you can find, then take your pick from the following menu:[fold]
If you’ve ever had a traditional Italian breakfast, you’ll know Italians probably consider it the least important meal of the day, which probably explains the lack of places to get a good breakfast in Haberfield. The Hungry Grasshopper 63 Waratah Street has, fortunately, rectified this situation. Though a little off the beaten track, it’s an eclectically furnished cafe that has already established a strong following in just a few months. The menu has all the usual favourites (and some awesome muffins), but their house blend by Single Origin brings a much-needed dose of quality coffee to the neighbourhood.
Is it ever too early for cannoli? Not if you want to beat the hordes at Haberfield institution Pasticceria Papa 145 Ramsay Street. Their ricotta cannoli are really something else, while their baked ricotta cheesecake is deservedly famous. But for those with slightly less of a sweet tooth, their pistachio biscuits are the insider’s tip.
When in Paris, get a baguette and some brie. When in Haberfield, hit the following and head for the nearby Piazza Federazione. No signage and queues out the door – that's the only way to tell you're at the local Italian bakery, Cassaniti 153 Ramsay Street. Oh, and the smell. Pick up a freshly baked pane di casa (house loaf) or some rosetta rolls, and if there’s a cherry pie on the counter, grab one for later. But a final word of warning: there's something of Seinfeld's Soup Nazi in the nervous shuffle of the customers and the brusque nature of the staff, so be prepared.
Forget that Lamonica IGA 155 Ramsay Street is a suburban supermarket – just listen to the fuss of nonnas feeding orders into the deli staff and you could be in Naples. Take a number, then spend some time perusing the counter, because you might be waiting a while. Our recommendation: grab some thinly sliced mortadella and deliciously fatty porchetta, then head for the final member of this holy triumvirate, local formaggeria Paesanella 88 Ramsay Street. Their fresh ricotta is the perfect complement to your mortadella, while a slice of Figaro (a decadent combination of mascarpone, gorgonzola and figs) takes thing to the next level of flavour.
A recent addition to Haberfield, ex-David Jones chocolatier Rino Saffioti 129 Ramsay Street fills the gap left by Colefax’s closure last year. Like many in his profession, there's a dreamy Willy Wonka-ness to Saffioti. His chocolate combinations are inventive, while his foray into macarons has already seen him outpoint Sydney’s other Wonka, Adriano Zumbo.
Best pizza in Sydney? There are plenty of contenders, but the selection at La Disfida 109 Ramsay Street is certainly worth considering. What gives the place a real edge are the seasonal Italian entrees that show the Zuzza family's pedigree from Glebe's Mixing Pot. Polenta chips with gorgonzola dipping sauce, anyone?
But if you'd prefer to cook up your own feast, pay a visit to Peppe's Pasta 151 Ramsay Street. Not only does it neighbour Cassaniti's, Peppe is actually the baker's son. And whilst you’ll find Peppe’s across Sydney, a visit will let you explore a range that extends well beyond the standards (spinach and ricotta, pumpkin and sage) to more gourmet options like duck, prosciutto and caramelised onion tortellini. You also have a choice of machine-rolled (firmer) versus hand-rolled (softer) gnocchi, depending on how you like your little dumplings.
When you’re done, wander down the road to Slovenian butcher Gojak's 177 Ramsay Street to add some protein to all those carbs. David Gojak’s own smoked smallgoods arguably rival Lamonica’s, but his fetish for unusual cuts, meats and sausages makes this a meat-lover’s haven.