With its walls lined with shelves stuffed with cookbooks and Italian pantry items, at Andrè’s Cucina you could imagine you’d walked into nonna’s kitchen, except that the Frome Street restaurant reflects Andrè Ursini’s enormous passion for northern Italian cooking. It’s a dark, cosy, warm-spirited place and at full throttle it can be very noisy.
To get the best of what’s available on the day, you have to look beyond the printed menu to the extensive wall-mounted “consigli” (recommended) menu, where the real seasonal treasures will most likely be found, but if you’ve starved for a day and are up to a full-on treat then the chef’s choice Menu Fisso is the way to go. It’s also great value for money at $65 for four or five courses – Ursini says it’s chosen by 80 per cent of his customers.
At first there were many who assumed his menu would be all about polenta. How wrong they were, although it’s very difficult not to start with a stack of polenta chips ($13) – crisp on the outside, creamy white polenta inside, served with sugo dipping sauce. Eat them fast before they go soft. Polenta lovers will find soft polenta dishes served with a variety of ragu sauces including goat, rabbit and duck.
Ursini’s guiding mantra is that of generosity, so if a dish comes with truffles or features prized chianina beef, its price is unchanged. And the portions tend to be generous, which makes sharing dishes an attractive option.
This is certainly the case with one of the consigli dishes simply labeled “burrata” ($25), which is an inadequate description for a whole, cream-filled buffalo mozzarella sitting on layers of crisp Sardinian “carasau” flatbread and thin slices of squid-ink-infused cacciatore sausage, with a dash of onion jam and chilli oil. It’s luscious, soft, oozy and crunchy all at once, with extra bread needed to mop it all up.
For something simpler and lighter, there’s a carpaccio of rosy pink king salmon ($25), still very sharable, sitting on a bed of whipped goat’s cheese and topped with blood- orange segments, mint and baby celery leaves, all beautifully balanced with super fresh flavours.
The rotolo ($32) is a large sheet of pasta filled with crumbled cauliflower mixed with marscapone, rolled into a log, wrapped in a tea towel and poached, then cut into thick rounds, three per serve, topped with pepitas and chopped truffle before being briefly roasted to crisp up the end bits, served with a sauce of blitzed cavolo nero. Probably one of the best vegetarian dishes you’ll eat in a long while.
Next on the consigli list is a large bowl of cavatelli ($32), little pasta ropes mixed with pieces of house-made pork and fennel sausage, plus chopped blanched and fried broccoli, and given a flavour hit with the Calabrian spicy, spreadable salume called “nduja”, laced with baby crudités to give textural crunch and topped with fennel fronds with seeds attached. It’s a really pretty dish, moist and luscious, with distinct hints of fennel.
There’s plenty of meat protein on offer, too, of course. There’s a duck leg and thigh ($39) cooked confit-style, then crisped in the oven, served on a pond of very tasty braised lentils hemmed in by parsnip puree, topped with warm horseradish and a rough gremolata. It’s a super-rich winter dish that’s soon to come off the consigli list. No matter, there’s always the 400g “flat iron” (flank) steak ($43) that’s been on the menu unchanged for at least five years, grilled, rested in a bath of olive oil and meat juices with heaps of herbs, then sliced and served with a mountain of crisp, fat, Italian-style roasted potatoes. Ursini says he sells 100kg of it a week, and it’s no wonder.
There are desserts, of course, but you probably won’t have room for them unless you’ve shown extraordinary restraint so far. They can remain your discovery.
Andrè’s Cucina and Polenta Bar
94 Frome Street, Adelaide, 8224 0004
Open for lunch Tuesday to Saturday, dinner Monday to Saturday.