I’ve got this Italian mate – the one who will eat anywhere and anything, but insists on comparing it to the food his mum makes. I mean he has good reason: even the leftovers she sends home have been worthy of a five-star review. But not once have I been able to convince him to eat at an Italian restaurant. “Why bother when I can just eat better at home?”
Well, some of us aren’t so lucky, or connected. And so, when we’re in a carby mood we either whip up a substandard pasta dish or head to the type of venues that promote themselves as authentic, yet often only satisfy a version that’s bastardised over time to suit our meagre untrained palates.
And then one day I convince him to join me for lunch at one of Adelaide’s newer Italian eateries. iTL is part of the Sky City complex, with views through panoramic windows over the newly opened Festival Plaza, across layered terraces and down to the Torrens. A Roman piazza it isn’t but for Adelaide, this is a fitting location that intentionally or not, pays homage to his Motherland.
And so, here we are. I’m prepared for another meal of pizza and pasta, expecting the expected, accompanied by commentary from my lunch date about how he can get it better at home. That is until the first dishes land.
Octopus carpaccio is light in texture and flavour, with rounds of perfectly cured and tender tentacle arranged neatly in the base of a shallow bowl. Tiny droplets of lime gel impart a citrusy zing, with a herbaceous counterpart offered by scented oil.
Next comes a beef battuta. It’s a tartare of sorts but arrives camouflaged beneath slivers of barely cooked beetroot, with wattle seed crackers propped up at each end. This is a pretty looking dish (considering its key element is raw beef) and has a nicely seasoned, vegetal flavour.
As someone who typically avoids melon of any shape and size, a whim to order the smoked watermelon starter pays off. This is a dish unlike any other I’ve tried before, in all the right ways. It’s testament that preparation techniques really can change the makeup of an ingredient and proves that science has its place in cooking. The watermelon is presented as a pressed slab that looks, and then eats like a fillet of firm fish or tender meat, but with a very different flavour. It’s a dish that confuses perception and tastebuds. There’s a smokiness present and crunch offered by a toasted nut crumble. A roughly chopped salsa verde provides a savoury flavour and a macadamia cream pooling below this fillet of melon seems to impart just a hint of vanilla. It’s the star of our starters and a dish that has me questioning my lifelong melon-misconceptions.
And then scallops are prepared crudo style, sliced thinly and piled between finely diced apple, cucumber and tiny citrusy cubes. The dish is sweet to a point but very well balanced and light enough that none of the ingredients disrupts the dulcet tones of scallop. A squid ink flavoured and coloured cracker is perched on top, providing a little hint of drama and salty flavour to this fresh take on a classic.
There’s a typical list of pasta – including pappardelle with ragu and tagliatelle osso buco – but I suggest landing on the seafood bucatini with its udon-noodle-like pasta coated in a thick bisque sauce; the dish is piled high with prawns, pipis and lightly cooked cherry tomatoes. The sauce has clearly been developed over time with layers capturing nuances of the ocean, the pasta silky in texture and served al dente and the seafood elements each perfectly cooked to deliver a dish that does everything pasta should, and more.
Thirty-six hours before our arrival, some hardworking types in the kitchen prepared a traditional dough that forms the base of a pizza then freshly topped at a dedicated station overlooking the dining space. This is the centrepiece of iTL with two bulbous concrete ovens standing behind the bench, precisely toasting pies to order. The porcini pizza is served bianca style: in place of the usual tomato base is a combination of cheeses, with chunks of mushroom the only other ingredient. This gets the tick of approval from my Italian mate and it gets mine too.
The last of the mains is wagyu steak cooked medium rare, sliced and splayed across a plate atop a bed of (unnecessary but fine) blanched baby spinach leaves. A pool of thick and tasty porcini flavoured jus is a delicious addition, and a carefully assembled pressed pumpkin element is a contemporary and tasty addition to round out the dish and soak up the last of that sauce.
Tempted by dessert we decide this time to go with something traditional, but it’s here that the kitchen commits a cardinal sin: Tiramisu in a glass. It’s not bad, but it’s a dated style of serving that is a step away from the other dishes and has us wishing we’d stopped at mains. Small sponge fingers with only a hint of coffee flavour struggle to stand up against the heavy-handed addition of cream and, unfortunately, it just doesn’t cut it.
But we’re not disheartened, we’re full. Dessert aside, this has been an excellent meal, with surprising dishes, some great presentation and a carefully contemporary spin on Italian classics that puts iTL up there with some of the best in town.
iTL Italian Kitchen
Ground Floor, Sky City
North Terrace Adelaide SA 5000
Open seven days for Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner
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