When you think of Italian hotspots, Ashfield wouldn’t exactly be the first place that comes to mind. But Nelson Meers Group, which owns Ashfield Hotel, has recently appointed Sam Bull (ex-head chef North Bondi Italian, found chef at Prince of York and Icebergs) as group executive chef to help overhaul the kitchens of the group’s 14 or so gaming-centric suburban pubs – from menu design to fit-out. Ashfield Hotel is the first cab off the rank.
“Simon [Meers], the CEO, wants to shift his company around to focus on good food and good beverage,” Bull tells Broadsheet. “And they’ve been really supportive and have given me the freedom to do what I want.”
What Bull has come up with is Pub Cucina, an Italian diner serving dishes far from the typical pub grub affair – although the seasonally rotating menu format does have some similarities. For instance, instead of burgers there are paninos, including a toasted ciabatta roll stuffed with mortadella meatballs and served with chips. Options from the grill include a Cape Grim grass-fed Scotch fillet with salsa verde and green peppercorns, and pink snapper dressed in anchovy, lemon, currants and mint. The kitchen is also doing its version of a Sunday roast in the form of porchetta served with mashed potato and veal jus.
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Of course, it wouldn’t be an Italian restaurant without pasta (here, it’s all supplied by Fabbrica). Selections include eight-hour slow-cooked beef ragu and spanner crab arabiatta spaghetti, as well as a range of antipasti plates including calamari fritti, four-cheese porcini arancini, and polenta chips with sour cream and sweet potato chilli relish.
The wine list has also had an upgrade, now featuring a mix of Italian drops and local takes on Italian varietals. And it won’t break the bank, with bottles going for about $60.
The interior design evokes a classic trattoria-style dining room, with booth seating inside by the bistro’s cosy fireplace. There’s also outdoor seating in a sun-drenched courtyard dressed with plenty of greenery.
Next on the group’s to-do list is the Hurstville Ritz, where the kitchen will be transformed into a pizza restaurant with its own woodfired pizza or stone gas oven, Bell says. Other projects in the pipeline include an Asian-inspired burger-bao joint, a steakhouse and a Mexican restaurant.
The plans come off the back of the group’s recent $160 million purchase of the Crossroads Hotel in the western suburb of Casula.