Finding Italian restaurants outside of Italy is easy enough - finding good ones, authentic ones, is a considerably more difficult task. So when I stumbled across Popolo Italian Kitchen & Bar situated at the far end of South Bank's iconic boardwalk, I wanted to dance a gig, fist pump the air and shout "Bellissimo!"
Diners can enjoy piatti picolli (small plates) or piatti grandi (large plates) and all are made to share, creating a convivial atmosphere right off the bat. 'Popolo', the owners explain, means 'people', and the term encapsulates the emphasis on eating en famiglia - with family (and, in this modern age, friends).
My companions and I kicked off with schiacciata, a wonderfully textured house-made pizza bread, scattered with heirloom tomatoes, just-picked basil (so fresh I suspected it had been plucked from the nearby Epicurious Garden) and hand-crafted buffalo mozzarella that melted in the mouth. The calamari fritti, crispy baby squid that tasted of the sea, also vanished quickly.
Other entrees I'm keen to try (but was prevented from doing so on this occasion by mob rule) include the capesante (seared Hervey Bay scallops served with cauliflower puree and pancetta) and the salmone marinato (Sicilian-style cured Tasmanian salmon, salsa verde, chili, lemon and olive oil).
We ordered a wide selection of mains, including pizza (the delectable parma features stracchino, fior di latte, rocket, parmesan and prosciutto), pasta (rigatoni loaded with Gold Coast tiger prawns, basil, tomato) and pollo alla cacciatora (grilled half chicken, accompanied by roasted peppers, tomatoes and olives).
Popolo pizza offers a slice of life. Author image.
Desserts were a sight to behold - particularly the flowerpot-impersonating tiramisu. Meanwhile, my vanilla semifreddo, enriched with honey, red wine poached plums and toasted pistachios, added a welcome cool change on a hot Summer's day.
Next time I'll be trying the crema al cioccolato (dark chocolate mousse with raspberry gel and white chocolate) or perhaps the panna cotta (limoncello panna cotta with Aperol jelly and lychee coulis).