STEFANO Manfredi and Killcare's loss is Avoca's gain. Former Bell's head chef Cameron Cansdell and his new wife, Hayley, have cut the apron strings and flown the nest and set up on the side of the hill above Avoca beach. Bombini means bumble bee in Italian and there is a definite buzz in the air on this former Rojo Rocket site. Cameron's technique, honed at Bell's, is strongly grounded in Italian roots and the food here is just that - classic Italian with a modern twist but relying on honest preparation of beautiful ingredients.
Antipasti can be as simple as the moreish house-baked filone bread ($3) served with an olive oil from Sicily or as substantial as a fritto misto. But it is hard to go past the fresh sounding veal battuta ($12).
Picture a cross between beef tartare and beef carpaccio but using supple young veal that has been shredded rather than minced or sliced, bathed in olive oil then sprinkled with freshly grated parmigiano and a plethora of capers and strewn on a bed of spicy rocket.
All the primi look like winners but Fabbri stracci pasta all'isolana with calamari, capers, chilli and "garum di tonno sauce" ($23/$33) is worth a second look. The ancient Romans fermented fish to make garum, a sauce very similar to Vietnamese or Thai fish sauce and similarly, a little goes a long way. It is intriguing to find a non-Italian chef introducing such an ancient Italian sauce into a modern Italian dish.
The rag-like pieces of pasta (from the Fabbri company in Tuscany) are beautifully coated in a light tomato-based sauce, judiciously flavoured with garum and chilli and tossed with fork-tender calamari, lots of capers, basil and baby spinach leaves and flecked with parsley. Where is that bread to get up every last drop?
Grilled quail is listed under "primi" but comes in two sizes ($23/$33). The smaller size gives you one whole boned quail. Pinkly juicy and finger-licking tender segments rest on a bed of smoky, spicy grilled eggplant and red capsicum salad bathed in garlic-infused olive oil. Still need that bread.
But the piece de resistance has to be the marble score 7+ Robbins Island Wagyu short rib, which has been slow-cooked until it literally falls from the bone. That marbling and grass feeding has done its job - this is one amazingly flavoured and tender piece of meat. And the smoked chilli, roasted pumpkin and shaved fennel that come with the short rib provide the perfect match.
The service to this point has been seamless; so much so that we say "whoa". We want to linger a little longer in the palm-filtered, sun-dappled ambience on the verandah of the old cottage. And there is still a little Pala i Fiori cannonau from Sardinia left to enjoy, just one of the several well chosen wines from all over Italy, with a few extras thrown in from France and our own Clare, McLaren Vale and Yarra Valley areas.
The dessert menu is deceptively simple. "Bombini raspberries and cream" ($14) or "gelati or sorbetti" ($12) - no surprises there, you might think. But wait, there's more to these descriptions than meets the eye.
The raspberries come in two forms - a ball of intensely flavoured sorbet surrounded by several well-chosen ripe berries and sitting on a disc of soft meringue which in turn hides a mound of spiced cream. Praline crumbs and jewel-like pieces of champagne jelly complete a dish which is far more than a sum of its parts.
Hayley and Cameron have not been here long, but already there is a confidence about the menu and the use of lovely ingredients not always found in longer lived establishments. I can't wait until they incorporate the produce grown on their property nearby.
(Note: The restaurant is opening The Pantry onsite this weekend. It will sell a range of provisions for the ultimate epicurean weekend, including house-made breads, extra virgin olive oils, Espresso di Manfredi coffee beans, vinegars, capers, Milawa mustard, honey, balsamic vinegar and pastas.)
What: Bombini, 366 Avoca Drive, Avoca Beach; 4381 1436; facebook.com/bombini.com.au.
Chef/owners: Cameron Cansdell and Hayley Cansdell.
Wines: A small list with an interesting selection of well-priced Italian, French and Australian wines, 11 by the glass.
Hours: Wednesday through Friday, dinner from 5pm; Saturday and Sunday, breakfast, lunch and dinner from 8am to 12am.
Vegetarian: Three antipasti, two primi (available as a primi or main).
Bottom line: Two primi, two secondi, two dolce, about $140 without drinks.
Wheelchair access: No.
Do try: Robbins Island grass-fed Wagyu short rib.
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