An Italian spot in Brighton with two Bar Carolina chefs, margherita cocktails and salted caramel mini 'Magnums'.
The newly opened Aromi is a restaurant you'll want to leave your neighbourhood for — unless you're lucky enough to live in Brighton, that is. Then, we're sure, you're about to start throwing around 'ciao bellos' with owners Paolo Masciopinto and Salvatore Montella on a regular basis.
Masciopinto and Montella, having worked together for five years at Bar Carolina and Sarti, saw an opportunity to open their own place — and jumped. The resulting 44-seater restaurant is elegant and intimate.
Perch at the black granite bar with a view into the kitchen, at a table in the dining room or at a stool looking out the window. Wherever you sit, make sure you check out the vertical wall filled with rosemary, thyme and marjoram before you leave. It's the inspiration behind the restaurant's name: 'aromi', which means 'aromas' in Italian. And aromas are an important part of the dining experience at Aromi, with Masciopinto telling us "smell can bring you back to places or bring back memories".
Taste, of course, is equally important here and all the food is made from scratch, including the bread and the pasta. The menu has many sections that you'll want to work your way through — we recommend you invite a friend or two (or go back several times solo) so you can savour the full range.
Start with the stuzzichini (meaning finger food) of gnocco fritto — light, crisp pillows of fried gnocchi — with soft cheese and wagyu bresaola ($5) and Geelong piquillo peppers, marinated and stuffed with goat's cheese and topped with black garlic ($4). And, they're not lying, you really should eat these with your hands.
Move on to antipasti, and, perhaps, order the scallops, potato and truffle ($14) and the soft shell crab ($8). If you do, ask for extra bread so you can mop up every last drop of the sauce. Then, when in Rome, do as the proverbial Romans do and choose a pasta or risotto before your main course. The spaghetto ($34) is made with tomato in both the dough and sauce, crab meat strewn throughout and macadamias scattered on top.
For secondi, we choose the crisp-skinned barramundi, which arrives atop a cauliflower purée and topped with capers and spinach leaves ($39). If you've made it the end of the menu, well done — we suggest you finish with the popcorn and salted caramel ice creams ($7), which look like mini Magnums and land on your table stuck into a tiny log.
The wine list is tight, favouring Italian wines but with a few Australian and New Zealand wines included for good measure. One to note is the Don Chisciotte fiano by Pierluigi Zampaglione. Grown at 800 metres and fermented in stainless steel for six months, this orange-tinted wine smells like mountain herbs and has a fresh, mineral flavour. When Montella tried it, he was surprised at how much it differed from the fianos he grew up drinking — so surprised, in fact, that he purchased all 1000 bottles the supplier had.
While you're there, you should also try a cocktail or gin. Bar manager Luca Masciulli has devoted a page of the drinks menu to local and international gin-makers, matching each gin to a different tonic. The cocktail list changes every week and Masciulli's latest creation is a margherita (yes, the pizza) drink made with piquillo jam-infused coconut tequila and garnished with a mozzarella, basil and tomato pane carasau (Sardinian crisp flatbread), which balances precariously on top of the glass.
As you leave, you'll be given a plantable thank you card, which you can then use to grow your own basil, thyme and memories.
Images: Silvia Zanone.
132 Mitchell Street, Maidstone