Review | Fredeli deli dinners

AT HELM: Fredeli owners Nina Hughes and Federico Aitoro at their Warners Bay foodie haven. Pictures: Simone De Peak
AT HELM: Fredeli owners Nina Hughes and Federico Aitoro at their Warners Bay foodie haven. Pictures: Simone De Peak

Lakeside lovers of Italian food and fare, rejoice.

Feast your eyes and your stomach on Fredeli Friday's, right on the Warners Bay Esplanade. By day, Fredeli is stocked, almost to the rafters, with an assortment of traditional and imported Italian products, including meat, cheese, and sauces, local smallgoods, such as olive oil and honey, plus dried pasta, muesli, coffee and much more. By night, on Fridays, Fredeli hosts a small crowd of in-the-know Novocastrians who've come to experience a three-course set menu based on authentic Italian recipes. 

Watch from the window as people pass by, boats  moor just off the shoreline, and the smell of fair-dinkum Italian food wafts from behind the deli counter. It's enough to inspire real or imagined memories of warm Italian evenings sipping wine.

The space is small (it is the shop front of a deli, after all), so bookings are essential, but if you time it right, especially over the summer months, you'll catch one of our region's most beautiful sunsets blazing orange, purple and gold behind Mount Vincent as you dine. A few high tables and stools are brought in and assembled in front of a glass deli counter stocked with many fabulous meats and cheese next to a series of shelves stacked full of delicious looking treats to please the palates of most gastronomes from Lake Mac and beyond.

Hospitable and convivial, Fredeli's namesake Federico Aitoro, welcomes us inside by remarking on the dazzling sunset. He sits us at the window so we can watch the bustling bay scene unfold. Hailing from Italy, Fred (as he is known to his customers) is the owner, host and the man behind the pans every Friday night, when Fredeli Friday's take place. Tonight he has created a menu consisting of Caprese salad with crusty bread, followed by Pasta alla Norma, then Saltimbocca alla Romana, served with roast potatoes. 

The deli is not licensed, so the BYO option is great, especially since it will knock a few dollars off the bill at the end. Tonight, we brought along a bottle of Tinkler's 2015 Steep Hill Shiraz ($25); a respectful nod to old-school Hunter reds, gentle and elegant with modest fruit and fine tannins, perfect for washing down the classic ensemble of Italian flavours in tonight's meal.

WIDE CHOICE: Fresh from the deli.

WIDE CHOICE: Fresh from the deli.

Live music and Friday night revelry is heard outside, in the park by the lake, as the entree arrives. A white oval plate is swathed length-ways by thick, alternate slices of bright red tomato and soft white and proper mozzarella, garnished with verdant leaves of fresh basil, dusted with salt and pepper, and accompanied by a few creamy Sicilian olives. A wooden basket of dry, toasted Sonoma bread, from Sydney, and a small dish of olive oil with a splash of balsamic is served with the salad. The oil, gratefully, adds some moisture to the dry, crusty bread, but I can't help but wonder why bread from a local baker isn't used. Newcastle and the Hunter has plenty of excellent bakers from which to choose. The salad, however, is deliciously simple and full of enough fresh ingredients to quash my complaint to a minor quibble.

The first course, Pasta alla Norma is served on another white oval plate loaded with tubes of textured rigatoni mixed among rough chunks of sausage and button mushrooms, green peas and a few specks of red chilli topped with shaved Parmesan. The pasta isn't fresh, but it is cooked al dente and slick with oil with lots of savoury flavour. The sausage and mushroom is also firm to the bite, yet soft as well, while the small amount of chilli provides a minor amount of pleasing heat that makes the dish taste better. It reminds me of simple and comforting home-cooked food that's enjoyed at family gatherings.

Darkness slowly drains the light from the sky and our view of the lake is replaced by the fluorescent glow of passers by, strolling in the warm evening air. The Saltimbocca alla Roma arrives on another plain white oval plate brimming with food; three thin slices of veal topped with sage leaves and rosemary flecked potato chips soak in a sweet, buttery broth. The veal is tender, juicy and herbaceous, while the thick-cut chips are crispy in parts, but mostly soft, fluffy and flavoursome. 

Fred's passion for authentic Italian food is evident in the simple flavours and straightforward presentation of each course. It's homely, simple-tasting food, and there's quite a lot of it. Obviously, being a deli, first and foremost, it's difficult to expect a full-blown restaurant experience, but I think, with that in mind, Fredeli Friday's just about pulls it off.

QUICK BITE

  • What: Fredeli Fridays
  • Where: 2/472 The Esplanade, Warners Bay, 2282. T: 4023 54965
  • Owner: Federico Aitoro
  • Drinks: BYO
  • Hours: Friday Nights (see website for details)
  • Vegetarian: Set menu (check first)
  • Bottom Line: $120 for two
  • Wheelchair Access: Yes
  • Do Try: Set-menu