The new Italian eatery tucked away neatly inside Sydney’s best-loved Casino, The Star, brings ‘simple, honest Italian food’ for guests with a sense of curiosity and a longing for ‘old-world hospitality and charm’.
Cucina Porto is the culmination of animated Chef Martino Franca’s “childhood memories, a recreation of his family table for guests to enjoy as they discover dishes derived from his family’s favourite recipes and inspired by his Italian home region of Puglia”.
Framed artscapes represent the regions the menu has been inspired by, while open shelves hero fresh tomatoes, olive oils and lemons. The end result is a restaurant that is fun, fuss-free and familiar; one that celebrates an inherent Italian desire to open the home and share the table.
My guest (Joe) and I sat at the far end corner with a clear view of the entire venue, watching the energy unfold at each table; a natural vibrance and strong animation at every corner. The warm wait staff embodied the same liveliness, and were exceedingly helpful with grand recommendations and insights into each and every aspect of the menu and all things Italian.
We guided our way down the list of incredible eats and aperitifs, finally ridding our pesky sense of indecisiveness by ordering a round of appetising drinks. We shared the Lemon Sgroppino – a sour concoction of prosecco, chilled vodka and lemon sorbet; simplistic and utterly divine. The perfect starter cocktail with its light body and zesty flavour before entering the night of comfort food that awaits.
For our entrees, we requested the stone baked bread with olive tapenade and extra virgin olive oil; Prosciutto Crudo (22 months Parma prosciutto); Burrata ( a fusion of Pistachio pesto and ‘nduja crumbs); and a plate of Kingfish Crudo paired with a light raspberry dressing. It was definitely an attractive spread – I’m salivating at the memory.
The fan favourite at our tavolo per due was most definitely the burrata paired with the baked bread and the side of prosciutto. I think Joe helped himself to a strong number of generous servings. I’d definitely recommend opting for a balanced array of starters (heavy and light) to really get a taste of all the different flavours Cucina has to offer. The kingfish was the perfect choice for our second entré, as it was delicate yet still illuminated flavour – especially with the unselfish splash of hot pink coulis.
Before indulging our main course, we relished a strong round of spirits; The Boulevardier (bourbon, vermouth rosso and Campari), and the Negroni Sbagliato (Campari, vermouth rosso and prosecco). Packed with flavour and a healthy dose of liquor, we adored the bold character and rich texture of the two, slowly sipping on them before going en route to the next stage of our dining experience.
Out came the award-winning (well, at least according to us) Schiaffoni – a pasta dish featuring slow cooked beef and lamb ragu, rosemary; and the Parma Prosciutto – a pizza displaying an artwork of tomato, fior di latte, rocket, Parma prosciutto, burrata and fig.
It’s near impossible to describe the emotions and overall feeling I had when sampling the pasta. I was transported back to the many fond memories I have of travelling around Italy, where a larger-than-life number of carb-rich recipes were enjoyably experienced. I can say, without hesitation, this particular dish with its rustic intensity and ‘TLC’ factor had me feeling as if I was in Rome; people watching at an alfresco-style lunch spot whilst spoiling my insides with true, Italian nourishment for the soul. The Schiaffoni was personally quite special, and I think any other person – with whatever degree of experience they have with Italian culture and cuisine – would agree.
The pizza was such a delight with the sensual combination of aphrodisiacs paired with the zests of tomato and subtle hints of herbs and spices tying it in smoothly.
Joe and I shared an espresso martini (boasting the perfect ratio of drink and froth), with the Nougat Parfait (pistachio, hazelnuts and cherry sorbet) and The Pear (poached pear, almond bavarois and limoncello sorbet). What an extravagance! The intricate art of the three-dimensional pear was as appetising as it was aesthetically pleasing. Cutting into the dessert was wholly satisfying, with the insides (actual pear) oozing out of the bavarois exterior that was posing as the fruit – something similar to the creative, unconventional genius of Heston.
The nougat parfait with its nutty appeal combined with the sour cherry flavour was a radical pairing and just absolutely marvellous. Both have the huge tick and come highly recommended.
The authentic experience delivered by Martino and his team, with their clear vision and obvious passion for Italian culture and cuisine, satisfies all senses. Take your date night to the next level by dining at Sydney's newest and arguably most anticipated addition to our already spectacular wining and dining scene.
Cucina Porto is open daily from 11:00am - 10:00pm.
Pic: Chef Martino Franca.