Diving into an established all-male Italian kitchen as the new head chef could be daunting (especially as a half-English, half-Welsh woman) but Naomi Lowry has taken it in her stride. She’s maintained the menu’s confident Southern Italian focus, notching it up with Sardinian Fregola ($27/$35) resplendent with perfectly cooked cuttlefish, calamari, prawns and mussels, and topped with a generous helping of bottarga. Bottarga also features (albeit with a lighter touch) over beautifully toothsome Pappardelle Verdi ($26/$34) served like a ragu with tender baby octopus. Both go gangbusters with a smooth, cherry-like 2012 Cos Cerasuolo di Vittoria Classico ($110) blend of Nero d’Avola and Frappato from Sicily. Produce-centred cooking starts with Naomi receiving a 7am call each morning from her seafood providore, giving her the lowdown on the catch of the day. It ends in plump Yamba Whitebait ($22) joining the menu as an entree special, alongside Coffs Harbour Swordfish ($36) as her fish of the day. Deep crosshatched grill marks and a juicy moist centre ensures the swordfish sings against a summery panzanella salad and bright green watercress purée. Where you will see a change at Popolo is in the desserts, where chef Naomi smiles about “getting to play”. And her spherical Coconut Panna Cotta ($17) is a showstopper, cracked open tableside to reveal hidden mango purée.
50 McLachlan Avenue, Rushcutters Bay
Ph: (02) 9361 6641 popolo.com.au