THE Kibble brothers aren't pharmacists, but their restaurant, Fratelli Roma, located inside one of those grand old Maitland buildings, was once a pharmacy where men in white coats would prepare and dispense drugs. Today, the white coats are gone, but the drugs remain. Joyful and nourishing food drugs, in the form of warming foccacia breads, melting carpaccio, al dente house made pastas, oysters, prawns and trout, poultry, beef, and lamb, white sauces, red sauces, cheese, herbs, fresh vegetables, and sweet desserts. Accompanying all this fine food is an impressive list of imported Italian wines and beers, cocktails, plus many well-chosen examples of local vino from the Hunter Valley and beyond.
Olive green and off-white walls, soft lights and stained timber floors warmly welcome you in out of the cold, where you are seated by friendly staff at tables set with cutlery and glassware ready to be stained with the evening's rich Italian fare.
To begin, my dining associate and I ordered a round of Italian beers, Peroni and Moretti, which promptly cleansed our palates before we began tearing hunks of warm, soft, damper-like house foccacia and dipping them into some warm olive oil and balsamic reduction. Next came a plate of beef carpaccio with fried capers, salsa verde, parmesan and roquette. These thinly sliced fillets of raw beef dissolve as soon as they touch your tongue, leaving behind contrasting crispy capers and crunchy leaves of rocket. We thought the parmesan was a little heavy handed, but nonetheless worked well with the other elements on the plate.
There was a while to wait between the entree and the mains, but, thankfully, my dining associate and I are still able to find lots to talk about. While we talked, we sipped on a decanted bottle of Stravisan Barbera d'Asti, 2011, from Piedmont, Italy. This hardy, no fuss Italian grape variety typically produces wines of deep red colour, soft tannins and bright acids. This was a good, easy drinking example of barbera from its home country, which sufficiently complemented our mains that were due to arrive any minute now . . .
Chef Daniel Kibble and his team make all the pasta fresh in-house. There was no gnocchi (a fond memory from our last visit), so we turned, instead, to the spaghetti marinara and rigatoni mafioso, respectively. The marinara features fresh Australian fish and shellfish, chilli, lemon juice, parsley, and white wine sauce that the spaghetti greedily soaks up to make a flavoursome seafood ensemble of supreme satisfaction.
The rigatoni is constructed from chicken, semi-dried tomatoes, with a creamy tomato and white wine sauce. Miniature tubes of cream coloured pasta absorb simple and subtle flavours and imbue them with pleasant finesse that warms your heart on its way to your stomach. Not as nice as the gnocchi, but certainly nice nonetheless!
The meal reached its crescendo with an invigorating Italian version of passionfruit tart, which was made from all manner of lovely and delicious things, including coconut gelato and Cointreau strawberries. Like any good dessert should, we finished our meal feeling revived and refreshed.
Fratelli Roma continues to set the standard for authentic Italian cuisine in the Hunter Valley.