The Kensington Street precinct, with the refurbished Old Clare Hotel as its anchor, is home to a variety of hospitality operators and cuisines. From the casual Asian 'eat street' Spice Alley to the suave Automata and the ever-evolving dining spaces upstairs, diners have no shortage of options in this area. So where to choose? Well, if you're a reasonably well-heeled middle-aged couple, have been tasked with taking out the in-laws, or are just in search of some nice hand-made pasta, you might head to Olio.
It's a generous space, located on the top of The Old Rum Store, it has really lovely heritage bones, big arched windows and bare brick walls. Nicely spaced tables and double linens give it a step up from street-level, although the interiors have been jazzed up with some blue and green touches and wrap-around lighting on the bar which both seem at odds with the rustic vibe of the building itself.
From the large open kitchen, Sicilian-born chef Lino Sauro is serving food from his motherland with some contemporary flourishes. For example, a salad of grilled calamari with tomato, fennel and lemon vinaigrette ($24) is artfully presented, but the calamari comes out cold. We're sure it's meant to be like that — but cold calamari doesn't have the best texture and, on the whole, the dish falls a little flat on flavour. Spirits are lifted by attentive service, which brings a smooth Soave from Venice ($12 glass) and a bowl of hand-made ravioli with king prawns, black truffle and burrata ($28). The squid ink strozzapreti pasta with spanner crab and 'nduja black pepper sauce ($34) is one of the best sounding dishes on the menu and the flavour idea is sound. The pasta, however, is quite dense and the sauce doesn't quite provide enough kick, spice or sweetness.
The traditional Italian zuppa — in this case, a rich Gattopardo seafood stew ($36) — is, without fail, one of the most delicious seafood things in a bowl we've ever eaten. It's their signature dish, and with good reason. The rich broth holding a variety of seafood like clams, prawns and mussels that are each perfectly cooked is everything you want from a dish like this — it feels like it's come straight from Nonna's kitchen. Finish with the tiramisu ($15); it's proper Italian-style with soaked sponge and not too much cream, although the crunchy cocoa topping will delight some and divide purists.
Overall, Olio is a great reflection of Sauro's heritage and his eye for presentation and less traditional flavour combinations. With a little further refinement in the kitchen and some warmer days for the rooftop terrace, it will make it a solid addition to the Kensington Street precinct.
Images: Lauren Commens.