Zeffirelli’s on Chandler Street in Belconnen was an institution – but one of those that we took for granted as always being there, and never really frequented. It turns out a few people must’ve taken it for granted, because it closed down back in February. For months we’ve been wondering what – if anything – would fill the big space it left. The answer is L’Artista.
L’Artista opened on Wednesday, so we’re there on its second night. At 6.30 there are six tables filled in the brightly lit and freshly painted space (which has kept Zeff’s tiled floors).
The large floor to ceiling windows are mostly kept, but a big chunk of the street view is obscured by a bar. Curiously, the bar has tap beers I’ve never heard of, which grabs my attention: Blue Moon, Alehouse and Pressman’s Cider.
If you’re wondering, they’re all part of Coca Cola portfolio: Blue Moon’s a wheat beer by Coors/Miller served with a slice of orange, Alehouse is a pale draught ale, and Pressman’s cider is … well, apple cider. You know how Yellow Tail (huge in the USA) is owned by Casella? They seem to be part of the arrangement. (Sidenote: Rekorderlig has – or was set to – join(ed) the portfolio, too.) I don’t know if I’m selling out, but I really like both beers. A lot.
ANYWAY. The space is clean but it just feels a bit unfinished or empty – and not because it’s not packed. There’s a big, blank wall at the back, and the kitchen faces the dining area without a lot going on, and there’s quite a big area to pay. A few more people might help, but I’d love to see a bit more on the walls, and even a few things – plants? – on the floors to break it up a little.
The menu is decent, and it’s difficult to choose between traditional and more gourmet pizzas, pasta, burgers, grilled steak and chicken breast or osso bucco. See for yourself here.
Boyfriend chooses the Moroccan chicken burger ($18), our guest goes with the osso bucco ($24) and I have to see if their gourmet pizza makes the grade ($19 for medium size Dolce Vita).
But first, we’re hungry, and we opt for the pesto and parmesan dough balls ($8 for four).
The dough balls aren’t what I expect: they’re light, fluffy and packed with pesto flavour. These aren’t like donuts or densely packed; they’re like little balls of garlic or pesto bread. I like them!
The front of house host does a round mid-way through asking how each table is going.
The osso bucco is huge! The meat – the most important part of the dish! – is excellent. The root vegetables are a little underdone, and the mashed potato isn’t the best our guest has ever had, but at $24 it’s hearty, filling and tasty, and he’s not disappointed.
Boyfriend reports that his (huge!) chicken breast is tender between a crusty bun. The steak fries hadn’t been boiled enough before they were cut and fried, yet the seasoning and frying is spot on. (But a tub of aioli or other sauce would satisfy the Manu in all of us!)
My pizza is excellent! The flavours of the gorgonzola and prosciutto marry beautifully atop the bechamel base; it’s very moreish, and easy to polish off. The mushrooms – while tasty – are a little superfluous, and the texture doesn’t add a lot. I pick the mushrooms off; I’d love the pizza to be sprinkled with the basil instead of it being used as decoration.
It’s difficult to get a real sense of what L’Artista’s about, but the food is hot, high quality and reasonably priced. It’s kid-, gluten-free, dairy-free and vegetarian friendly, and Coca-Cola portfolio or not, it’s fun to try new beers. I look forward to seeing what happens next (particularly with their bare walls!).
Date: Thursday, 8 May 2014
Where: 5 Chandler Street, Belconnen
Cost: $98 for three, including three pints, one wine, three mains, and an entree
Value for money: Medium-high
Worthwhile factor: Worthwhile
Want more? Try their website (and I’m told their Facebook page will be live very soon!).