If you thought Barolos Ristorante Italiano in Toowong seemed a little oddly familiar, you would be right. Mariosarti had been in that space for over twenty years, but closed its doors a few months ago. In its place has emerged Barolos, also clearly an Italian restaurant, similar in many ways, but different in key other ways.
We received an invitation to visit and dine, and were intrigued to find out what had transpired. So it was that we made our way to Toowong Village on a drizzly weekend evening, and retreaded the steps we had taken when Barolos was in its prior incarnation.
The lighted sign, white on black, displayed its name against the darkness, along with a line drawing of a horned Dionysus (or Bacchus), flanked by grapes.
We were greeted as we came through the entrance, and invited to sit at any available table we liked. We chose to sit in the covered outdoor area, protected from the elements by clear straight drop outdoor blinds on the sides. The dark tiled floor was contrasted by white marble-topped tables, in round and rectangular shapes, that could fit varying numbers of people. Each table was expectantly set with plates, neatly folded napkins, cutlery for entrees and mains, and wineglasses etched with that same saturnalian sketch that was on the sign. LED candles at each table gave off a warm, flickering glow that added to the atmosphere. The chairs had a smartly angular wooden frame, and comfortable black leather padding. It was a simple, but timeless and stylish design.
The interior had almost a reversed colouring, with floors and ceilings that were in light, cream and sandy tones, and tabletops in dark wood.
We were brought menus, pages bound in a black folder with the lettering and logo in gold on the front. In those were pages with dishes divided into sections of entrees (pane and primi piatti), mains (pastas and meats), and sides. Although many of the items will be familiar to those who frequented Mariosarti, it is also a shorter menu than previous. Those who have seen Gordon Ramsey’s Kitchen Nightmares will be well acquainted with his frequent improvement of condensing an overly inclusive menu to fewer, but better executed dishes. It serves them well here. As our hosts, the owners, explained, a number of the chefs from a previous iteration of the italian restaurant had returned to be in the Barolos kitchen.
Despite the fewer items, we were still torn between a number of options, trying to decide between having similar dishes to what we had before to try to make a head to head comparison, or trying entirely new things for variety. Fortunately, some of the quandary was resolved by our hosts offering to put together an entree platter that had a bit of many of the starters, so that we could get a better idea of what they could do. It was an offer we couldn’t refuse. While not strictly on the menu, they said it was something they could do for special guests if it wasn’t too busy a service.
For our mains, we figured that one really should try a pasta if one is at an italian restaurant, so, prompted by the crisp evening, chose the Rigatoni con Agnello. For the other main, we had the 300g Rib Fillet.
When the entree platter was brought out, it was impressive, to say the least. The large plate was really packed with everything: arancini, crispy skinned pork belly, calamari fritti, capesante, and antipasti including marinated baby octopus, shaved cold cuts, olives, and artichoke hearts. They also brought us some scamorza on a separate plate.
We started with the scamorza, while it was still hot. They were slices of wood smoked white mozzarella cheese, lightly grilled with lemon smoked sea salt. These had a haloumi-like texture, with a bit of springy chew. They were caramelised brown on the outside from being pan fried. They had savoury and smokey notes, and the lemon wedges served with them added some citrus brightness when squeezed over it. Salt flakes sprinkled on the surface gave them extra punch.
The Arancini were a combination of smoked mozzarella, grana padano, gorgonzola, served with a dollop of garlic aioli on them. They were solidly crunchy on the outside, and on the inside, a warm, cheesy risotto mix. The blob of garlic aioli delivered strong garlic flavour, but was there in a sparing enough amount that it wasn’t too pungent. Altogether, it was a tasty, savoury, creamy, and crunchy mouthful (not that you could have managed one in just one bite). This was one item we could directly compare with what the previous restaurant kitchen turned out, and we enjoyed this version much more.
The Capesante were prosciutto wrapped Tasmanian diver scallops. The scallops were tender and juicy, and had a seared crust on the top. The thin prosciutto slices around them were just as soft, and gave it a light saltiness. The scallops sat on a light, slightly peppery sauce base that didn’t mask their natural sweetness.
The Calamari Fritti were Atlantic squid pieces dusted in lime and pink peppercorn. They had a light outer batter crumb, which had a brittle crunch, and was nicely seasoned with salt and pepper. The calamari inside that crumb layer had a tender springiness, and were perfectly cooked, not rubbery at all.
The Pancetta de Maiale was their crispy skinned pork belly, with a spiced carrot puree. It is actually one of their main dishes, but a small portion was served in this entree plate so we could try it, as it is one of their house specials. The skin was a thin, crisp layer, quite wafer-like. It would have been even crispier, but we were eating the other items before we got around to it (the problem when one has too many good options). While different from the solid wedge of crackling one often gets, it worked well. Underneath that was a jelly-like fat layer, then tender meat. The skin was well seasoned. The carrot puree underneath it had a natural sweetness that complimented the meaty flavour of the pork.
An Orange and Fennel salad was also part of the platter, for some balance to the other protein components, and as variations of fennel salads accompany many of these items if had as whole entree dishes. It was light and citrussy, and was a fresh contrast. The orange slices were sweet and refreshing.
The Antipasti comprised cured meat slices that were so finely shaved they were almost translucent, including a pleasantly salty, meaty pancetta, a strongly aromatic truffled salami, and a not too gamey bresaola. There were also marinated baby octopi, soft rather than chewy, and a little citrussy from the marinade. There was a small dish of pickled artichoke hearts, tender, tangy, and a little sweet.
There was a creamy dip in the centre of the platter, to be had with any of the elements. It was smooth, had a little tartness, a little saltiness, and a familiar flavour we just couldn’t place. We couldn’t help but ask, and were told that it was a miso mayonnaise. It was an example of how the chef team aimed to put a twist on the traditional, modernising what could otherwise be quite typically traditional fare.
We were also poured a little of the Barolo wine that the restaurant takes its name from. The red wine had a fruity, punchy aroma, and had a complex sweet, tart, almost meaty flavour. While we are a long way from being oenophiles, we could certainly see why it would appeal to those who are.
In the pause to let us digest the generous serving of entrees before the mains were served, we were shown their private function room. Down a corridor and separated from the main dining area by a dark glass door that says VIP, the room has a large table (really two tables put together, but it allows for other configurations), that comfortably fits 16 to 18 padded turquoise-coloured chairs around it. Shelves of waiting wine glasses are dramatically lit at one end of the room. On another side is a large flat screen television that can be used for displaying whatever media patrons would like for their function. With hire of the room comes your own wait staff, and a set menu costing from $75 per person for an entree, main, and dessert. We were told that they will take bookings for functions with a minimum of 8 people.
We returned to our table just as the mains were ready to be brought out.
The 300g Rib Fillet was a Diamantina Wagyu steak, served with truffled mashed potato, blistered cherry tomatoes, confit mushroom, and a Barolo jus. The steak was cooked medium rare, as requested, and it was tender and juicy. There was a little crispness at the skin surface, and the fat layer was caramelised, so had its own sweetness, as well as smokey char. The potato mash was smooth, and the truffle flavour in the mash carried through. The Barolo jus was rich and meaty, with umami notes. Having had the Barolo wine earlier, we could see how it was a great pairing not just to drink along with meat, but also to cook with it. The blistered cherry tomatoes had sweetness and tanginess, and were a bright, contrasting flavour to the meat.
The Rigatoni con Agnello had slow braised 5 star lamb shoulder in a rich napoli sauce, tossed with fresh thyme and shaved reggiano. The rigatoni tubes were cooked al dente, of course. The sauce had a tomatoey, tender mix of pulled lamb, as well as more substantial chunks of lamb meat. As we found out, the lamb shoulder had been cooked for 8 hours, then the lamb meat pulled off the bone. Remnants were then blended into the sauce to make it extra hearty. The reggiano cheese flavour was a little lost in the richness of the meaty sauce though. This certainly made for a good winter comfort meal.
Although we were about ready to roll out of the door by then, we still couldn’t pass up dessert. Their dessert menu contains a number of italian classics, like tiramisu, limone crostata, and affogato. Although we were tempted to order the tiramisu, which was done with a twist (tiramisu, raspberry, brownie dust, and chocolate fondue), we found ourselves even more drawn to the panna cotta.
The Panna Cotta had Cafe Patron panna cotta, salted caramel foam, coffee dust, cinnamon meringue, and toasted coconut gelato. The dessert was shades of cream and white, served in a shell-like plate. The panna cotta was pillowy soft, and had a good wobble. It was light and smooth, and we could taste the faint vanilla-y sweetness of the liquor. The cinnamon meringue had a definite cinnamon flavour, and had a powdery brittleness. The salted caramel foam was airy, but had a strong sweet and salty punch. It was the most strongly flavoured component though, and had the tendency to overpower the other elements unless just the smallest bit was had. The toasted coconut gelato was sweet and smooth, with a pleasant coconut flavour. Bits of toasted desiccated coconut in it added interest. The components were a good mix of textures, and the flavours were true.
The food we had at Barolos was tasty, and we could see the work that went into making the components of each dish delicious. We were, in particular, impressed that each of the many items on that entree platter were done so well.
The new owners were warm and welcoming hosts, and, as it turns out, they have a significant history with the restaurant, having run it for a number of years for previous owners before taking the plunge to make it their own when the opportunity arose. Their hosting style is friendly rather than stilted, and we certainly saw patrons at other tables welcomed as old familiars (whether they were regulars or also new to the establishment was hard to tell). They set a good standard, and certainly make Barolos a place for a lovely dining experience.
Price point: $9.50 to $11.90 for breads. $16.90 to $27.90 for entrees. $32.90 to $36.90 for pastas. $34.90 to $39.90 for mains. $14.90 for desserts.
Value: It’s not cheap, but it is good food.
Address: 1/41 Sherwood Rd, Toowong
Phone: 07 3371 5727
Website: Barolos Ristorante Italiano