Chef Martino Pulito’s childhood home of Puglia is a long way from The Star – but he’s still found ways to bring that coastal Italian simplicity to Cucina Porto, his luxe new venue opposite the Lyric Theatre.

“I remember going to the markets, people yelling, selling fish. This is the whole atmosphere in Puglia. In a luxury environment like The Star, this doesn’t normally exist,” he tells Broadsheet.

Pulito – who most recently worked as head chef at The Morrison Bar & Oyster Room – uses his memories of Puglia to peak effect on the new diner’s menu. “I choose simple dishes, which usually have a maximum of three or four ingredients,” he says.

Dishes such as burrata with pistachio pesto and ’nduja crumbs, and gnocchetti with seasonal mushrooms and parmesan fulfill the simplicity brief. Other dishes are directly inspired by food that came out of his mum’s or his nonna’s kitchen, such as the slow-cooked Freemantle octopus with fettucine. “When I was young I had no Xbox,” Pulito says. “Instead, I used to go to the harbour and catch wild octopus. It was maybe 600 or 700 grams, not huge – you could catch it with your bare hands. I would bring it home and my mum would be waiting for me, so happy.

“She cooked it with bay leaves, tomatoes and onions for three, four hours, really, really gently.”

Seafood features heavily, Pulito taking advantage of Sydney’s abundance of fresh produce in dishes such as calamari fritto and swordfish served with capers, olives and tomatoes. The turf section of the menu is also strong, featuring minute rump served with prosciutto; chicken cacciatore; plenty of ’nduja-laced starters; and a pizza menu.

“We use an organic flour for our pizza dough and let it rest for two days before we do anything, so it gets nice and soft,” Pulito says. Toppings include fior di latte, rocket, prosciutto, burrata and fig; tomato, buffalo mozzarella and basil; and ’nduja, roasted potato and smoked cheese.

Although Pulito focuses on using premium ingredients – the fish is all sashimi grade – not one dish costs more than $30.

“We try to be very generous with our customers and give them the best produce on the market, served with a little bit more love and effort,” he says.

The cocktail list is full of Italian classics, including six takes on the Negroni that trace its evolution over the decades. The Bicicleta, made with dry white wine, Campari and soda, is a refreshing drink for summer. The wine list is thoughtful and approachable, featuring a mix of Italian varietals produced in Italy and Australia.

Where the venue best matches the high-rolling environment of The Star is in the fit-out, which has a contemporary art-deco feel, with elegant rounded edges on the tiled, gold-edged bar, warm wooden tables, and cane and leather chairs.

With Cucina Porto, Pulito wants to bring Italian food back to basics – an approach he thinks is under-represented on the Sydney dining scene. “People focus on the modern, but they don’t have the knowledge of where it came from. They’re forgetting how to make something like a simple tomato sauce. “What we’re offering is simple. It doesn’t need to be interpreted by the customer; they don’t have to wait for the waiter to explain.”

Cucina Porto
Level G, Harbourside, The Star Sydney, 80 Pyrmont Street, Pyrmont
1800 700 700

Tue 5pm–10pm
Wed to Sun 11am–3pm, 5pm–10pm