Pepe, who is one of Adelaide’s high profile chefs, and best known as one of the team behind the successful North Adelaide restaurant Cibo Ristorante Pasticceria, opened Pepe Cucina at Burnside Village on March 3.
In recent years Pepe has been working as a consultant since finishing his association with Cibo Espresso – the cafe offshoot of the original restaurant.
“I was nervous to start, but once I was back I realised how much I missed it,” he says.
“I’m here cooking every day and it’s easier than I thought it would be.”
Pepe Cucina has taken over the space previously occupied by H by Felici cafe, and while it is casual in a stylishly Italian way, it is definitely not a café.
Pepe Cucina has been totally refurbished and opens out to that enormous deck which now features seven large potted olive trees with a story of their own.
“Francesco Virgara, who has a fresh produce stall at the Adelaide Showgrounds Farmers’ Market and is also a supplier and a friend of ours, has an olive grove at Willunga,” explains Pepe’s partner Amanda who is often seen running front of house at Pepe Cucina.
“Francesco said we could pick out the trees we wanted and he and Salvatore spent a day digging them up and potting them – some of them are 10 years old.”
Pepe Cucina offers a high quality seasonal menu including antipasti plates, chargrilled meat and seafood and pasta and desserts.
“It’s a modern interpretation of some very traditional regional Italian dishes,” explains Pepe.
“When many people think of Italian food they think of lasagne, spaghetti Bolognese and veal pamigiana, but a lot of our clientele are Italian or have travelled to Italy and they are looking for food that is simple, seasonal and refined.”
The principle is evident in dishes like baccala mantecato (whipped salted cod which takes two days to prepare), crudo di salmone (thin slices of fresh salmon dressed with olive oil, lime and pink peppercorns), and an antipasto plate of San Daniele Italian prosciutto, tender slices of Italian buffalo mozzarella and house-made sun dried Roma tomatoes.
From the charcoal grill Pepe is producing rustic dishes of cuttlefish, octopus, and Bistecca alla Fiorentina (hand cut aged T-bone).
“People know Salvatore’s cooking, so our biggest seller has been the crab pasta (blue swimmer crab in a chilli cream sauce with taglierini),” says Amanda.
“There’s something about that dish that Adelaide people are enchanted by.”
The second most popular dish so far, she says, is the pasta norma (ripe tomatoes, basil, garlic, chilli, eggplant and parmigiano with penne).
“We have had a customer come in to eat that dish three days in a row.”
Desserts include Pepe’s take on classics such as crema di mascarpone (mascarpone cream with Galliano and summer berries), gianduja affogato (espresso coffee served over chocolate hazelnut gelato), semifreddo of zabaglione and almond toffee, and of course a selection of local Italian style and Italian cheeses.
The wine list is also made up of local Italian style wines and Italian wines by the glass and bottle. And customers and encouraged to enjoy the beautiful Autumn sunsets on the deck with Italian cocktails and aperitivi such as peach bellini made with prosecco and real peach puree, and Aperol spritz made with Aperol, prosecco and soda, and the exclusive Dolimiti beer from the Italian Alps.
“The wine list was designed by David Ridge, an Italian wine specialist and a friend of ours, to complement the food that we serve,” says Pepe.
“Some people just want a glass of wine and a small plate of food.
“I understand that and I encourage that because I also love food a lot more than I love cooking.”
Pepe Cucina is open from Monday to Wednesday 9am to 5pm, Thursday to Saturday 9am til late, and Sunday 10.30am to 4pm.
Disclosure: Salvatore Pepe is married to InDaily publisher Amanda Pepe.
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