I have this Italian companion – the one who eats anything and everything, but insists on comparing it to the food his mother cooks. I mean, he has good reason: even the leftovers she sends home earned a five-star review. But not once did I manage 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 the carby mood, we either whip up a subpar pasta dish or head to the type of places that advertise themselves as authentic, but often only satisfy a version that’s bastardized over time to suit our meager untrained palates.
And then one day I convinced him to join me for lunch at one of Adelaide’s new Italian restaurants. iTL is part of the Sky City complex, with views through picture windows over the newly opened Festival Plaza, through layered terraces and up to the Torrens. It’s not a Roman square but for Adelaide it’s a fitting place that, intentionally or not, pays homage to its homeland.
And so, here we are. I’m ready for another meal of pizza and pasta, expecting what’s expected, complete with comments from my lunch date on how he can make it better at home. That’s until the first dishes arrive.
The octopus carpaccio has a light texture and flavor, with perfectly dried and tender rounds of tentacles neatly arranged at the base of a shallow bowl. Tiny droplets of lime gel lend a citrusy zest, with an herbaceous counterpart offered by the scented oil.
Next comes a beef batta. It’s a kind of tartar but arrives camouflaged under strips of barely cooked beetroot, with acacia seed crackers wedged into each end. It’s a pretty dish (considering its key component is raw beef) and has a well-seasoned vegetable flavor.
As someone who typically avoids melon of any shape and size, a whim of ordering the smoked watermelon starter pays off. This is a dish unlike any other I’ve tried before, in all the right ways. It proves that preparation techniques can really change the composition of an ingredient and proves that science has its place in the kitchen. Watermelon comes as a squeezed slice that looks and then eats like a fillet of firm fish or tender meat, but with a very different flavor. It is a dish that confuses perception and taste buds. There is a smokiness present and a crunch offered by a toasted walnut crumble. A coarsely chopped salsa verde imparts a savory flavor and a macadamia crema forming under that melon drizzle seems to give just a hint of vanilla. It’s the star of our starters and a dish that makes me question my misconceptions about melon.
And then the scallops are prepared crudo style, thinly sliced and piled between finely diced apples, cucumber and tiny citrus cubes. The dish is sweet to a point but very well balanced and light enough that none of the ingredients disturb the sweet tones of the scallop. A squid ink flavored and colorful cracker is perched on top, lending a little dash of drama and salty flavor to this fresh take on a classic.
There’s a typical pasta list – including pappardelle with stew and osso buco tagliatelle – but I suggest landing on the seafood bucatini with its udon noodle-like pasta coated in a thick bisque sauce. ; the dish is filled with shrimp, pee and lightly cooked cherry tomatoes. The sauce has clearly been developed over time with layers capturing the nuances of the ocean, the silky textured pasta served al dente and the perfectly cooked seafood elements to deliver a dish that does everything pasta must do, and more.
Thirty-six hours before we arrived, a few hard workers in the kitchen prepared a traditional dough that forms the base of a pizza then freshly topped at a dedicated station overlooking the dining area. It’s the centerpiece of iTL with two concrete bulb ovens standing behind the bench, precisely toasting pies to order. The pizza with porcini mushrooms is served bianca style: instead of the usual tomato base, there is a combination of cheeses, with pieces of mushrooms as the only other ingredient. This gets my Italian mate’s approval and mine too.
The last of the main courses is a medium-rare cooked wagyu steak, sliced and spread on a plate on a bed of blanched spinach leaves (unnecessary but fine). A pool of thick, flavorful porcini juice is a delicious addition, and a carefully assembled piece of pressed pumpkin is a contemporary, flavorful addition to round out the dish and soak up the rest of that sauce.
Tempted by the dessert, we decide this time to opt for something traditional, but this is where the kitchen commits a capital sin: the tiramisu by the glass. It’s not bad, but it’s a dated style of service that’s one step away from other dishes and makes us wish we’d stopped at the main course. Little spongy fingers with only a hint of coffee flavor struggle to resist the heavy addition of cream and, sadly, that isn’t enough.
But we are not discouraged, we are satisfied. Dessert aside, it was a great meal, with surprising dishes, excellent presentation and a carefully contemporary twist on Italian classics that puts iTL among the best in town.
Italian cuisine iTL
Ground floor, Sky City
North Terrace Adelaide SA 5000
Open seven days for breakfast, lunch and dinner
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