Review: Piccoli Piatti Cucina and Bar, Herne Bay
Ph: (09) 376 5367
From the menu: Prosciutto $16, Stracciatella $12, Polenta $10, Butternut tortellini $19, Risotto $19, Goat ragu $19, Osso bucco $20, Hazelnut mousse $15
Drinks: Fully licensed
Piccoli piatti means "small plates" in Italian, but these two words translated rather more fittingly to "rule buster" when I dined at the just-opened Piccoli Piatti Cucina and Bar in Herne Bay recently.
First I broke the golden rule, not that I've ever subscribed to it, of "no carbs after 5". I started consuming them just after 5 o'clock and carried on way past 8pm. In fact, I've been told by those who know such things that I'd be wise to avoid eating wheat altogether with my constitution, so there goes another rule broken - because there was no way I was missing out on a menu of tortellini, taglierini, gnocchi and more, all made in-house.
Nor can I be blamed, really, for the amount of meat-based dishes I chose to order. You see, I was attempting to make up for my strictly vegetarian dining companion. Yes, Piccoli Piatti led me astray, good and proper.
The reopening of this site (it used to be Herne Bay Local) seemed to drag on forever but finally the new owners, sisters Lynda and Joanna King, have swung open the wrought iron gates and head chef Rob Richardson (ex-Molten) is in full swing in the cucina at this neighbourhood eatery.
We, or rather I, began with a huge pile of sliced-to-order prosciutto served with lush fresh basil leaves and grilled blackboy peaches and, as I wrapped each warm peach slice in the cured meat, I marvelled at how the simplest ways of preparing food can also be the most enchanting.
A bowl of hand-stretched stracciatella was placed between us; it was creamy and gorgeous and the sprinkle of black sea salt provided the perfect up-beat for these strands of fresh mozzarella. A stack of sturdy polenta batons came with a sour cream sassed up by truffle and they were crisp and soft at once, and full of flavour.
I then headed off on a meat and wheat frenzy quest with goat shoulder ragu, followed by osso bucco. The melting ragu came with fat soft strands of hand-rolled spaghetti, pici pasta, and a tomato sauce that still had plenty of life left in it. Chilli and green olives gave the dish a kick along and freshly grated parmigiano reggiano lent its saltiness.
Then came the veal osso bucco which was the perfect autumnal dish in my opinion; pieces of soft, long-cooked meat, imbued with plenty of herbs, red wine and a hint of orange zest and served with potato-filled tortellini, saffron lending its haunting flavour, walnuts and a rocket gremolata for crunch.
Meanwhile my vegetarian friend had started with a dish of butternut tortellini; tender pasta parcels filled with sweet smooth butternut, a balsamic reduction used sensibly to sharpen up the sweetness, soft white clumps of fresh ricotta and crisp sage leaves and toasted hazelnuts for added texture and taste. And that most wonderful of preparations, burnt butter, topped it off.
The crab and corn risotto, which we'd requested to come without the crab, arrived with cute deep-fried crustacean as its crowning glory and flecks of the pearly crab meat featuring generously throughout the rice.
All credit to the kitchen which replaced the dish with minimal fuss (they even let me keep the crab-filled one and I'm pleased they did) and what arrived was equally as fantastic as the original.
Packed full of corn, zucchini, plump grains of rice, creme fraiche and, to ensure it wasn't bland through lack of crustacean, a decent shower of scamorza affumicata, a wonderfully smoky Italian cheese, had been added. Clever cucina this one.
Our fabulous waitress spoke fluent Italian, having done a few stints in Italy, but her guidance on pronunciation came with no whiff of condescension and her love of food shone through. We loved her.
Having broken so many rules, what was one more? We ordered a dessert as decadent as they come; a glass tumbler filled with a light, frothed hazelnut milk, within which was suspended a almost-chewy ball of chocolate ganache, and all of it covered with shards of honeycomb and hazelnuts. We dug deep for mouthfuls of what tasted like a sophisticated version of Ferrero Rocher. Magnificent.
Piccoli Piatti Cucina and Bar is a great example of why we never tire of Italian cuisine - the rustic simplicity, the comfort of dishes cooked long and slow and made by hand and the sense that you're eating with the seasons. Magical.