Back in the before times, groups of people (yes, groups) used to gather at restaurants. Sometimes – maybe for a special occasion, maybe it was just payday – people would book a table at an Italian restaurant and eat helpings of cacio e pepe out of a big wheel of cheese instead of a bowl.
Then, a pandemic happened and toilet paper, hand sanitiser and pasta flew off the shelves. Soon, cooking pasta became a chore for all of us. Pesto is public enemy number one in my pantry, and jarred sauce isn’t too far behind.
But the good folk at Darlinghurst’s Buffalo Dining Club are bringing joy back to the pasta-eating experience one cheese wheel at a time.
Like the rest of Sydney’s restaurants, Buffalo Dining is confronting this bleak new hospitality landscape with cheer, great plonk and outrageously good takeaway dining. Its menu changes, but so far we’ve seen chicken cotoletta (crumbed cutlets), hearty bowls of rigatoni, and fried potatoes shimmering with bottarga.
But we were yet to see Buffalo’s signature dish, that cacio e pepe in a big old wheel of cheese, until now.
“This particular dish, everybody’s been asking about it,” Marcelo Garrao, who owns Buffalo Dining Club along with Peter Kypreos, tells Broadsheet. But serving cacio e pepe in a cheese wheel via a delivery service was impractical – “you take it on the road for 20 to 30 minutes, it’s just not the same.”
So, they’re selling handmade pasta with a jar of cacio e pepe sauce to cook at home for $22. For another $75, you get your own roughly 1.5-kilogram mini-wheel of pecorino – an eight-month-old number from Sardinia.
“We want to give people an experience for the next few weeks,” says Garrao. “So it’s not like, ‘Hey, here’s your cheese wheel,’ and that’s the end of it – we want to take people on a journey.”
The restaurant will email recommendations for things you can cook and serve in your pecorino cheese bowl, as you gradually and deliciously whittle it down. These range from carbonara with guanciale (pork jowl), to a risotto with sauce made from the cheese wheel itself. You’ll be able to buy all the ingredients you need for your cheese-bowl recipes from Buffalo, which will soon offer a marketplace alongside its usual takeaway menu.
“You can keep reusing [your cheese wheel]; you just scrape the top layer off, cling wrap it and put in the fridge, and it’s ready to go for the next day.”
Demand so far has been hectic – people are clearly clamouring for a primo cheese fix to add pizzazz to their pasta– so pre-ordering is essential. Gerrao says he’s hoping to have every cheese wheel ready for same-day pick-up from the restaurant next week, so get in while you can. If this first round is successful, Garrao hopes to keep it going for as long as he can.
“We’re a pretty small team and we’ve only been able to retain two chefs, but their attitude has been inspirational,” Garrao says. “So we’ve just got to keep on going and create something that’s at least going to keep them in a job and hopefully employ more people down the road.”