One dopeness a month is the mantra. This month, August was Pilu At Freshwater, a place set in this massive heritage listed house next to Freshwater beach, just north of Manly. It’s helmed by Giovanni Pilu, whom we met as we entered, smiling and greeting us. He’s Sardinian and imprints his pride for his homeland into the menu and into the winelist. Some of the specialities of Sardinia include Fregola, which is like pasta balls made outta semolina rather than regular flour. I didn’t try it because there was plenty of other stuff to consider.

Pilu has 2 hats to their name. They also have the winelist of the year for 2010. They are also totally unique in that they do a specific style of Italian food that you cannot find anywhere else in Australia. Expectation were high because all and sundry trump this place. Price wise, it’s not super killer either. If you went for the “Taste of Sardinia”, it would be just $105, not much more than a pile of other places that don’t have superb service and beachfront views.

It really feels like walking into someone’s house when you enter. A rich ass person’s house but whatever. There’s a lighted sign at the end of the carpark that said “Entrance”. Further in past the garden was the house itself and 2 separate outdoor dining areas. This big blue door blocked the way, completely solid and rather imposing. We weren’t sure until we pushed it open. Inside is this little sitting room with a big mirror and a staircase leading upstairs, where you get to the bar and the upstairs seating area. It’s a pretty massive place. Decor is simple if a little quaint. If anything, it sorta looks like this Woody Allen movie I saw, September, which had a house in the Hamptons. That sorta beachhouse feel you know.

My good mate had made his mind up on what to order the day before. Their speciality dish, the oven baked roast suckling pig. I had to take a little more time to make up my mind. Specially after the waitress told me about this pasta entree with truffled pecorino and fresh shaved truffles.

Eventually we decided. Quail stuffed with chicken liver, potato, tarragon and chilli, wrapped up in pancetta and served with an eggplant caponata. My side was a risotto of finely diced squid (the size of the rice), caramelized fennel and finely shaved Sardinian bottarga, which is salty pressed fish roe. The last ingredient totally changes the character of the dish and the thoughtful waitress pointed this out, changing her recommendations for wine to suit.

The quail is superb. You get this honey baked ham sweetness on the crisped skin. Most of the bones were removed to make this cavity for the liver stuffing which was really nice with the eggplant caponata. It had to go together. The flesh itself the most sublime pink and juicy tender delish. It’s classical skill but very composed.

My risotto was really simple. Not much squid at all. It’s all finely diced as small as the rice but you get this beautiful whiff of fresh, clean squid. The stock used was simple if flavorful. Very delicate, very precise. The bottarga brings another dimension and depth into the picture. A really beautifully clean dish. I totally want to cook risotto exactly like this. Just really tasty. Went sublime with my recommended wine too.

Main number one was the suckling pig. It’s a touch dry according to my friend but the revelation for him was the house made sausage, which had, I think, fennel seeds stuffed amongst this sweet-ish mix of roughly minced pork, fat and stuff. The sweetness recalled Taiwanese sausage to some extent although it’s nothing like that at all. The texture is lively and interesting, not a uniform grain. There’s a distinct aniseedy finish on the aftertaste and the bits of fat bring in this richness to it all. The crackling is also apparently amazing judging from the loudness and a potato stack filled with truffle was also apparently insane.

I’m wasn’t particularly perturbed that my friend got to savour a really good dish. I had a whole roasted baby snapper with a Vernaccia and green olive sauce. Oh man, when it hit the table, the smell was ridiculous. I just smashed it all start to finish, eyeballs, lips, cheeks, forehead, stomach, back whatever. There was nothing left. People who know me well know I eat fish start to finish, no flesh untouched concept. I even do whole roasted baby snapper at work, only ours costs like 5 or 7 dollars less. Big deal, it’s the sauce that’s sick. You can’t just get something like that cos they use a particular wine to cook it. Devoured.

Desserts. A chocolate and hazelnut semifreddo with chocolate sorbet, some tuiles and anglaise. Prettily presented and nice and tasty. The real revelation was mine again once more though. A simple as all hell vanilla panna cotta topped with abbamele, a product made by slow cooking honey, honeycomb, pollen and citrus zest. This sauce was divine. I don’t know how else to describe its perfect balance of sweetness with the slightly acidic and bitter citrus component. The panna cotta is also superb. Wobbling awesomely despite my relentless shifting of the plate. A perfectly sliced piece of biscotti gave a crispy thing to chew on but my fave thing on the plate was this glass textured slice of caramelized blood orange that broke in my mouth like the most insane bit of hardened sugar ever. So good!

Pilu was the place that brought me back. Back from the draw of experimentation and wild flavor combos and choosing the “different” option. This was a time when I tried to be interesting but just got really tasty, simple dishes. It’s just tasty. Real flavor and not pyrotechnics or ridiculous philosophical benders. Flavor. What food’s all about.

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