Kerry has been writing radio copy for donkey's years, & also dabbles in short stories & travel writing. She works, plays and explores largely in the CDB and inner suburbs, gets everywhere by public transport and is the self-professed Zone One Queen.
Published March 30th 2015
Your pasta handmade fresh before your eyes, before you dine
For the Melbourne foodie, a lot is on offer to tempt and tease the tastebuds and aesthetics – from international cuisines to fabulous or quirky dining interiors, concepts and experiences. What, then, of Italian cuisine, that favourite old staple of well-known pasta and pizza? Can tradition, 'just like Nonna used to make', continue to bring something fresh to the Melbourne dining experience?
Most assuredly so, at The Olive Jar ristorante / café / pizzeria, opened in 2014. Their weekly menu consists of authentic home-style 'cucina italiana – and here's the difference. Out the front on the bar, chefs Giovanni and Gabriele will make fresh pasta right in front of you while you watch.
Pasta hand-rolled fresh on the bar; feel free to watch and ask.
It is entirely new to me, being of non-Italian lineage, to watch the pasta I'm about to eat being made from scratch. While several establishments may make their own pasta, Giovanni informs me The Olive Jar is the first of its kind in Australia to bring the hand-made process out to be demonstrated in front of patrons. It is quite the foodie experience to watch flour, water, salt and pepper being combined, hand-rolled and hand-cut on a marble slab. No machines are used, the process is as natural is possible, and the pasta shapes are delightfully organic.
Spinach and ricotta, in preparation for pappardelle ferricelli.
My pasta is then transferred to the kitchen, where Giovanni transforms it into a mouth-watering pappardelle ferricelli, which is served to our table in padella (the old style frying pan). This very old Neapolitan recipe uses spinach, ricotta, no eggs. I think I have died and gone to culinary heaven.
A grating of parmesan, as the pappardelle ferricelli is served to the table 'in padella'.
Later, I am resurrected to die again as dessert arrives – a panzarotta siciliana. Freshly hand made of course, as is The Olive Jar's reason for being. Ricotta, chocolate, fried honey, cinnamon and a dusting of icing sugar. It's not 'too much', it's just right - in so many ways. In certain parts of Sicily, Giovanni tells me, this dessert is known as chiacchieri, "the gossip", because people are always talking about it. (My own research notes that it could possibly be related to the crispy sweet chiacchiere fritters eaten at Carnivale time.)
The pizza is another drawcard, with a base that's up there with the best available in Carlton. The chocolate soufflé – yes, The Olive Jar makes this temperamental but rewarding dessert that not many other eateries bother with. And it wouldn't be an Italian establishment without offering mouth-watering gelati, and perfectly brewed coffee.
Giovanni and Gabriele are known as 'the singing chefs', and if you are lucky, you'll hear them in vocal action. The service at The Olive Jar is that of a family who have been in the restaurant game for over 45 years, and put passion for good food into everything they do. From the reviews on their website, you'll note the praise from Italian customers - and that's note-worthy indeed.
The Olive Jar also welcomes people to drop in on their way home on Thursdays and Fridays for the Aperitivo and Assaggi Happy Hour. Between 6pm and 8pm, one can relax and enjoy the Italian after-work custom of an aperitivo beverage and tagli di antipastini – aka delicious Italiano finger food.
I hardly need to add that The Olive Jar will clearly make any booked function a combination of amazing tastes and hospitality. They can be liked on Facebook (where some very delicious food photos reside) and their website can be accessed at www.theolivejar.com.au to book for your lunch / brunch / dinner experience. To quote a line from an UrbanSpoon review: "As an Italian, I know good food and this place definitely has it."