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Behind the Menu: Assaggio Ristorante


A shared passion for Italian food is key to the kitchen culture at Assaggio Ristorante, says head chef Nick Tadija.

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Tadija was first behind the stoves at Assaggio Ristorante as sous chef (2009 to 2012) and returned late last year to take on the role of head chef at the refurbished Hyde Park restaurant. Here, he shares some of his passion and thoughts on the the menu.

The kitchen culture at Assaggio Ristorante is …
Positive and revolves purely around top-quality, beautiful produce and delicious food. We truly embrace Italian food and the spirit of family and everything that this entails. All the chefs that work in the kitchen come from either an Italian or European background and so have been brought up in a strong family-orientated culture and we all get along like cousins or brothers who share the same passion. There is a very strong focus in the kitchen on delivering Italian food that is traditional, simple, homemade, fresh, local and seasonal.

Who are you cooking for?
My heart wants to answer this question by saying I am cooking for all the Italian “nonnas” out there because, for me and nearly every other Italian, this is the only approval that anybody ever needs. I try to deliver food that is delicious, simple, vibrant and appealing, and I want customers to feel comfortable, like they are eating at a friend’s place.


Assaggio Ristorante head chef Nick Tadija. Photo: Nat Rogers/InDaily

Describe the current menu.
A blend of tradition using modern techniques and creative flair. We cook to the seasons, using only the very best local ingredients on offer at the time. On this menu we have done our best to get back to simple, traditional, Italian cooking featuring scallops, octopus, lamb, duck, gnocchi and freshly made pasta such as Linguine Vongole (a Sicilian classic) or Cacio E Pepe (a typical Roman pasta), or house-made Gnocchi Alla Norma. We also have a modern take on the classic Rum Baba dessert made with Strega (an Italian liqueur) and a lime curd using limes from one of our kitchen gardens.

Who or what has had the greatest influence on your cooking?
The biggest influence for me would have to be the four seasons; this is what I look to first when planning my menu – which season are we coming into, what produce is becoming available, what is at its best. This applies across the board, from fruit and vegetables to meat, seafood and cheeses. Another major influence is the time I spent in Italy. There is a lot more to Italian cuisine than is generally believed. There is a huge variety of ingredients utilised in Italian cooking with massive influence from different regions.

What are the hero ingredients?
Extra virgin olive oil, the best quality tomatoes, the best polenta and flour, and good-quality salt, spices and herbs, because this is the difference between a good meal and a great one. It’s very easy to get A-grade scallops or the best cut of beef, but without amazing oil and seasonings it will always lack that greatness.

What is your favourite dish?
The standout dish for me is the prickly pear (which we source from Nonna’s garden), matched with whipped goat curd from the Adelaide Hills, freshly shaved macadamia (also from Nonna’s garden), and a Ligurian mead caramel sourced from Kangaroo Island. It’s my favourite because this dish is my style – it defines exactly what I am all about and what I am trying to achieve here at the restaurant. It is completely produce-driven, unique and, of course, delicious.

What is your favourite food and wine match?
The summer menu had a dessert that consisted of a chocolate and Nocello (Italian walnut and hazelnut liqueur) custard, a chocolate, pecan and cherry crumble, fresh cherries from Marble Hill and a cherry sorbet made from the same cherries. We matched this with a glass of Pedro Ximenez (a Spanish sherry). It was incredibly delicious and the first thing that came to mind.

What are you cooking at home?
Scrambled eggs on toasted ciabatta or a meat ragu with tomato sugo and rigatoni. Just simple, rustic and comforting food that doesn’t require a lot of effort and satisfies my craving. In saying this, recently a friend and I turned my apartment into a bakery and made 5 kilograms of Easter bread which took 14 hours from start to finish, so I guess I don’t always stick to my own rules.

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