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Published May 21st 2012
Sometimes it is nice to treat yourself. Really treat yourself. And that is exactly what you'll be doing when you visit 1889 Enoteca at the revived centre of Woolloongabba.
The menu boasts 'Vera Cucina Romana' or 'Real Roman food'. While I will have to take the 1889 Enoteca's word on that, I can vouch for the fact that everything we tried was absolutely delicious.
The menu changes often depending on what inspires the restaurant's owners from their recent trips to Rome. 1889 Enoteca's signature dish is the 'Gnocchi di patate con salsicce, crema di parmigiano e tartufo nero' - the potato gnocchi, pork and fennel sausage and black truffle tapenade, which my husband ordered. I, like the omnivore I am, had the 'Saltimbocca alla Romana', which is veal with prosciutto, sage, potato and beans.
My veal was one of the best versions of saltimbocca I have had in a long time, achieving the perfect balance of sage and lemon. But after tasting my husband's gnocchi, I was struck with severe food envy. The gnocchi was, with no exaggeration, one of the finest Italian meals I have tasted. Ever. And I've spent time in Italy. You need to try this dish. If, sorry, no when, we return to this restaurant, I will be ordering a whole plate of the gnocchi, as the small taste I sneaked, clearly wasn't enough.
The wait staff seem to be a topic of much discussion at 1889 Enoteca, as they often are with many good restaurants. Our waiter, Sam, was the perfect complement to our meal - incredibly knowledgeable about the food and wines, always on hand with simple eye contact, but never intrusive. I was particularly impressed that he spoke about the many wines he had tasted from the list - no mean feat considering the depth of the list - and recommended both a red wine and dessert wine excellently based on his experience.
I was also happy that as my husband and I were debating about entrees, Sam confidently steered us away from our usual, safe option and towards a Verdure miste - a plate of vegetables. Certainly not something I would normally opt for, but one that I am very glad we did.
The vegetable antipasto platter consisted of fried fennel, grilled eggplant, artichoke, deep fried baby carrots, Sicilian olives, caper berries and blocks of Parmigiano Reggiano. Until you have tried 1889 Enoteca's Parmigiano cheese, you have not really eaten Parmigiano cheese. This cheese is completely different to most I have tried, being air freighted in directly from Italy, and so fresh that it almost melts in your mouth. While we would normally run screaming from a plate of vegetables, we finished every last artichoke and marinated eggplant on the plate.
1889 Enoteca's decor is beautiful, from the glass cabinets at the front entry to the marble basins in the toilets. One enclave in the dining area to the side is lined from floor to ceiling with wines. In fact, the restaurant as a whole is a homage to the great Italian wine. Dan Clark and Emmanuel Sakellarakis had the idea to found an Enoteca in the old Moreton Rubber Works.
Incidentally, this heritage character building was built in 1889, hence the restaurant's name and is worth a look in itself. Enoteca literally means 'wine library' and Enoteche in Italy often focus on regional wines and produce to act as a sort of local bottle shop. Dan and Emmanuel were importing and locally selling Italian wine but it took Cameron O'Brien for the restaurant to really come together and create something special.
Every year, the owners travel to Italy to visit wine producers and undertake research for their restaurant. They concentrate on some of the smaller wineries and try to showcase specifically wine from the Lazio and Roman regions. Sometimes they may only bring back 200 or so cases of wine which they sell through their 1889 Enoteca restaurant and supply to others. So with some of the wines on the menu at 1889 Enoteca, you'll need to be quick.
Wine is a massive component of Italian food, but not necessarily the most important. Don't think for one second the food takes a second seat to the wine at 1889 Enoteca. Every detail of the decor, wine and food has been carefully thought out. For example the Tiramisu, which I had for dessert, was not a traditional, large, cake-like Tiramisu. The owners feel that Italian eating usually revolves around family-style dining, where a large meal is made, and then immediately eaten. However, this doesn't always translate to restaurant dining. Instead, each Tiramisu at 1889 Enoteca is beautifully served in individual portions in latte glasses, an idea the owners 'borrowed' from a cafe visited on an earlier research trip in Rome. The Tiramisu I had, while not traditional, was undeniably fresh, moist and pretty close to perfect.
The owners are obviously passionate about their Italian wine and food and believe in brutal honesty where complacency is the enemy. They believe in simplicity and authenticity in Italian food where balance is important. From my experience, I think they live up to their lofty ideals On that note, although we thoroughly enjoyed a beautiful 3 course meal, 1889 Enoteca would work just as well for a lunchtime bowl of pasta and a glass of wine.
We went there for my husbands birthday last week.
This restaurant is fabulous! The food was wonderful and the wine was well paired with what we ate, and to top it all off the service was the best we have had in a long, long time.