Food is a wonderful way to pry open our minds, ignite the pleasure centre located within and stretch it wide with an endless combination of smells, tastes and textures. But, as poet Ralph Waldo Emerson says, "the mind, once stretched by a new idea (or taste, in this instance), never returns to its original dimensions," which is a more general and insightful way of saying "if you really enjoy frozen pizzas from the supermarket, then don't ever go to Italy."
Actually, you don't even have to go to Italy; indeed, you don't even have to leave the Hunter Valley. In fact, might I suggest that if you really enjoy frozen pizzas from the supermarket that you never go to Napoli Centrale, home of Newcastle's most authentic and delicious pizzas... ever.
Encased within large glass rectangular windows in Newcastle's burgeoning multicultural food hub, nearby Crown and King Street, Napoli Centrale continues to roll, toss, garnish and bake, until bubbling and blistered, over thirty pizze e calzone seven nights a week to a hungry horde of frozen-pizza-hating Novocastrians. They also prepare, freshly made pastas, and scrumptious stuzzichini (nibbles) and insalate (salad) for starters, and dolci (sweet desserts) for afters. There's Peroni on tap and the wine list is exclusively Italian and features some excellent drops to drink either by the bottle or by the glass ($5 BYO also). There are soft drinks, juices, and coffee too.
The last time my dining associate and I dined at Napoli we started with the stracciatella, followed by gnocchi with black truffle and proscioutto e rucola to share, and finished off our meal with the gianduia (hazelnut) chocolate and roasted almond semifredo.
Looking around, pendant lights hang from a high concrete ceiling and illuminate a stark concrete floor set with wooden tables and bentwood chairs. Behind the kitchen counter, where all the pizzas are prepared, is a red, white and grey geometric mosaic that runs from the windows to the back wall and behind Centrale's centrotavola; a white tiled igloo shaped pizza oven roaring at well over 300˚C and belching out the salivating smells of tonight's freshly scorched Neapolitan pizzas.
Almost all the wait staff are Italian, or, are at least very good at speaking with an authentic Italian accent. They're friendly as well and it's not long before one of them rushes out our stracciatella insalata starter; a soft white ball of mozzarella filled with cream (known as burrata). It's thin, supple skin rests on top of a few diced tomatoes and basil. Next to this is a brown bag choc full of crunchy shreds of pizza crust. We puncture the burrata with a knife and let the gooey white cream ooze out into the bowl, add some fresh, tangy tomato, snap off a bit of pizza crust, combine and inhale. It tastes creamy, but light, a little tart, but deliciously fresh and makes for an oh-so appetising curtain raiser.
The pasta and the pizza arrive almost at the same time. We're given a pizza stand to rest the pizza on, while a small white handled pot of gnocchi with black truffle is placed just underneath. Soft, squishy Italian dumplings are flecked with black truffle flakes; they smell like sweet earth and taste like bite-sized bits of nutty, buttery, garlic clouds.
The pizzas are all hand made and cooked in the wood fired oven, until the crust begins to crack and blister, the toppings begin to soften, and the cheese begins to melt. There are thirty pizzas to choose from, half with a tomato base (pizze rosse) and half without (pizze bianche). You can also order pizza by the metre, with up to three toppings per metre. Our proscioutto e rucola is without a tomato base but is loaded up with cherry tomatoes, basil, fior di latte mozzarella, rocket, prosciutto di Parma, and Grana Padano Parmesan, which is Italian for a whole lot of fresh flavour on top of soft yet crispy pizza dough.
For dessert, the Gianduia chocolate and roasted almond semifreddo is the type of finale that would make a fat lady sing. White wedges of semi-frozen ice-cream stuffed with chocolate hazlenuts and roasted almonds are decorated with shards of orange toffee, which sticks in between your teeth and makes you grin like an idiot.
With our stomach and our mind both sufficiently stretched, we sit back and thank Alfonso and co. for bringing the simple smells, tastes and textures of Naples to our tastebuds and our pleasure centres, here, in Newcastle.
What: Napoli Centrale
Where: 169 King St, Newcastle / napolicentrale.com.au
Owner: Alfonso Muras
Drinks: Beer, Wine, Soft Drink, Juice, and Coffee
Hours: Mon-Thurs 5pm-10pm / Friday-Sun 11am-10pm
Bottom Line: $ ($70 for two, plus drinks)
Wheelchair Access: Yes
Do Try: Gianduia chocolate semifredo