The common trope among new restaurants in this current culinary climate appears to be a move away from the elaborate and the lavish, and instead to take a step back towards the primaries of food. This back-to-basics approach seems to have reinvigorated the dining experience around town, stripping back the flash and showmanship and instead serving really, really good food. There's no cuisine that's seen more of this kind of approach than traditional ethnic cuisines, and classic Italian is no exception to the rule at Allegra.
The humble eatery on Danks Street invites the diner to consider what is truly possible in traditional Italian food without succumbing to cliches or over-the-top flourishes. The restaurant seems to be styled with this in mind, as the decor is a minimalist, almost industrial wash of whites and blacks, stone and timber. Instead of feeling sterile, however, the atmosphere is one that focuses the attention entirely on the food that's coming out of the open kitchen.
Starters and entrees feature a number of classic selections, including some lovely, super fresh oysters with white balsamic and mint ($4.50 each), or a generous spread of salumi, olives and ricotta with honey ($25). It's always pretty hard to go past a cured kingfish, and Allegra's — with buttermilk, cucamelon and pomegranate ($22) — is worth ordering, no matter how many times you've eaten it.
Allegra specialises in pasta, although you won't see any spaghetti Bolognese or carbonara on the menu. In their place instead, are dishes like blue cheese ravioli with dried figs and radicchio ($25), or an exquisite squid ink spaghetti with calamari, 'nduja, capsicum and basil ($26). It's a unique medley of salty and fresh flavours, and the dish presents as a beautiful cacophony of colours.
When it comes to mains, the Humpty Doo barramundi with mussels and heirloom tomato is absolutely top notch. Acqua pazza (a light herb broth, which translates to 'crazy water') is added to the fish at the table, and the rich, salty notes are a delight first in the nostrils, and then on the palate. There's a really pleasing umami in the dish also, lending it a really rounded flavour.
While side dishes aren't generally fodder for reviews, it is worth mentioning Allegra's salad of baby cos, prosciutto, raisins and baked ricotta. There's nothing out of this world about it, but the combination of sweet from the raisins and salt from the prosciutto — as well as the variation in textures — means that it's a perfect accompaniment to pretty much anything on the menu, adding more to the dishes without overpowering them.
Allegra boasts a pretty comprehensive wine list, the majority coming from Italian shores, though there are a few Aussie drops among the miscellany. For the fancier folk, a few cocktails make an appearance, including an absolutely killer sidecar. To finish it all up, the dessert menu (all $14) features a caramelised apple semifreddo and panna cotta with cotton cake, mandarin and liquorice. Failing that, there's the classic tiramisu — no point trying to improve this legend.
Images: Bodhi Liggett.