Remember those deep-dish pasta bakes from your youth, covered in canned tuna and tasty cheese? Imagine one with huge pasta shells, each full of lamb ragu and topped with Grana Padano and a fontina cheese sauce. Welcome to Isaac, the new Redfern restaurant serving fancy pasta bakes, Iraqi-style grilled chicken and other dishes you wouldn’t expect at a neighbourhood Italian joint.
The owner, Riccardo Roberti (Tinello), and chef, Samuel Bull (North Bondi Italian, Keystone Group), call it a modernised fusion of Italian and Middle Eastern flavours, the idea coming from the fact both of their wives have Middle Eastern heritage. “It’s Italian based, or Mediterranean. But we're not Italian nonnas, just looking at doing the same thing, the same way, every time. We want to be more diverse and a bit experimental,” says Roberti.
That desire is clear when you see the side menu of flat breads, served with Egyptian-style liver parfait. Or equally with a warm hummus-like dip, a fish of the day with muhammara (a roast capsicum relish), a set of tender lamb cutlets rubbed with sumac, and the Iraqi-style grilled chicken.
Then there’s a simple well-executed carbonara sweetened with honeyed bacon, a pot of ‘nduja-spiced clams with crisp strands of celeriac and parsley, and a spattering of native ingredients. “We just want to keep it real. It’s just comfort food, home food with good products,” says Bull.
Roberti and Bull talk about it as a casual joint for everyone, but that doesn’t do justice to the fit-out, designed by Roberti with design firm Sketchlab. It’s quite luxurious; the floor is made from an incredible jigsaw of smashed pieces of marble, there’s dark furniture and a concrete bar.
Isaac iss well priced and the wine list (short, international and classic) starts with bottles from $35. “Between 3pm and 6pm we'll probably do Negroni sessions with four or five different Negronis and some tasting platters.”