When stepping into Pino’s from Kogarah’s busy President Avenue, the first thing that hits you is the smell. For me, it’s a smell that strikes me at the core – a smell of things I probably started eating shortly after I learned how to chew food, to be honest.
As other school kids ate their peanut butter or vegemite sandwiches, back in the 1970’s, I was the wog kid chomping into a salami & cheese sandwich in crusty Vienna bread. In retrospect I wouldn’t have had it any other way, despite knowing I ate differently from the other kids; quietly craving a sausage roll or meat pie from the tuck shop.
Chiller cabinets loaded with just about any cut of fresh meat or sausage greet you as you walk in the door, as does either Pino himself or anyone else than mans the counter. Above the cabinets hang delicious sopressa, salami and pancetta, dangling like edible bunting and filling the air with their gloriously sweet smokiness.
And then you’re greeted with this.
In a climate controlled, glass-walled room hang dozens of prosciutto with other curing meats, ribs, sausages and even red chillies tucked in amongst a forest of deliciousness. Pretty much all the meats are butchered and manufactured onsite; down to the adorable grape-sized meatballs to toss into soups.
It isn’t all about the meat, either. Pino Tomini Foresti goes to Italy frequently – sometimes twice a year – to source products and have them shipped back to Sydney, to sell in his mecca for many things Italian. Confectionary, panettone, preserves, pasta, sauces – you name it. They even make their own passata, just incase you’re not up to cooking up kilo’s of tomatoes yourself.
I’d known about Pino’s for a few years already, but it wasn’t until some friends – that so happen to live a few minutes away – suggested we do lunch there. We were first to arrive, so after a quick look around I mentioned a reservation was made, for lunch.
“Oh, you guys have the round table”, said one of the chirpy staff.
The only round table in the house happens to be right next to the open kitchen – a kitchen that’s also set up for cooking classes for any of us.
We soon learned the round table is also another name for the ‘family’ table. This coveted spot is where Pino’s close friends and family are often seated when they’re around. We felt privileged – and it helped that our friends are here often enough and know just about everyone by name.
“Did you just want to do what you did last time?” asks Pino’s daughter, Carla, as all of us settle in.
Yep, it seems our friends-that-live-three-minutes-away come here quite a bit, and it also felt that we’re in good hands. It wasn’t long before Italian beer, red vino and a platter of charcuterie, pecorino, olives and bread filled our round table. It’s hard to pick favourites when everything is so good, but the prosciutto and rather punchy n’duja (spicy salami) shone a little brighter, in my eyes.
House-made ravioli came next – each oversized raviolo filled with creamy buffalo mozzarella. The sauce couldn’t have been simpler – cherry tomatoes, eggplant and fresh basil. Magic.
And not too long off its heels was fettucine with zucchini flowers, n’duja and pangrattato (breadcrumbs). Al dente perfecto! That’s the best Italian I can provide.
Things then turned towards carne territory – a lazy susan adorned with perfectly grilled lamb chops, pork, house-made sausages and a 1.5 inch thick lump of t-bone. Talk about a meat-fest. A simple rocket salad came along for the juicy ride, as well.
Room for dessert? Damn straight, there was. A few Italian doughnuts were saved before they were all bought by other patrons. Custard-filled, topped with salted dark chocolate & peanuts and Nutella-filled.
Coffees all ’round – beans by Stefano Manfredi, no less – and we were eager to get outside before we dozed off from booze and food coma.
Cost-wise, between the four of us we had a couple of beers, bottle of vino, still & sparkling water, charcuterie platter, two pastas and all that meat – for about $210. Our doughnuts and coffees were complimentary. Something to do with having the privilege of sitting at the family table, methinks.