Mariosarti is an Italian restaurant that has been in Toowong since 1995. In restauranting terms, that is a long time. Some eateries these days barely make it 12 months. It takes something to weather the times and changes indeed, and it has made it through a somewhat chequered history to continue to serve up classical Italian fare.
We were pleasantly surprised to receive an invitation to dine at the restaurant, and so on a chilly winter weeknight made our way into the main shopping strip of Toowong. Mariosarti is on the ground floor of a building just a few doors down from Toowong Village, rather subtly signed unless you know what you are looking for. We walked up the steps to the entrance, and once we were through the glass doors, we were greeted by the pleasant warmth of the heated interior as well as alert staff.
We were given the option of sitting inside or outside, and preferring to stay in the more comfortable warmth, asked for a table inside. As it turned out, the outside wasn’t really as much outside as we had feared. In warmer weather, it effectively would be a covered deck area. In this cooler weather, the clear screens had been drawn down, sheltering it on three sides, so making it an extension of the rest of the space.
The interior is done in a classical style, rather than one that pursues trends of the day. It has light coloured walls, with some raw stone sections, and stone tiled floors in a sandy shade. The dark wood-topped tables and the angular wooden chairs with black leather cushioning add a gravity to the room. The lighting is low, creating a study den feel. On some of the tables are what look like tall candles, but instead of flames are warm LEDs that flicker, creating a good illusion of the real thing.
In one corner of the space was the bar, and wooden shelves stocked with a range of spirits, for those so inclined. Music played at a comfortable volume, a female vocalist singing a ballad, just audible over the other diners.
We were brought menus, black hardcover books with pages within containing options of Pane (breads), Primi Piatti (entrees), Pasta, Secondi (mains), and Contorni (vegetable sides). We had a hard time choosing what to have from the menu, which had many items that would be considered Italian classics, like arancini, the many pastas, and pork scaloppini, as well as other more modern but also tempting items, like the Sicilian spiced confit Grimaud duck leg, or the herb crusted Tasmanian lamb rump. We were also told about the specials of the day, a brown mushroom risotto, and pan fried barramundi. When we heard that they had employed Italian chefs to work in the kitchen, and that they made things like their own bread daily, it made choosing both easier and more difficult.
In the end, we decided on the Arancini, Bruschetta con Funghi, and mains of the Brown mushroom risotto special, and the Pancetta di Maiale, along with a side of Patate al rosmarino, their triple cooked duck fat potato chips (who could go past that?).
The Arancini were first to arrive, described in the menu as crispy fried rice balls filled with smoked mozzarella, Grana Padano, gorgonzola, and rosemary, served with a tomato and chilli jam and garlic aioli. They were certainly beautiful and golden brown on the plate, topped with generous blobs of aioli. The crumb gave it a fine crunch on the outside. Inside was a mix of rice that was soft but not sloppy. It was the right ratio of soft to crunchy. We found that most of the flavour came from the aioli and the tomato and chilli jam though. We were told that the arancini are rolled and made daily. While the textures were good, we wanted more cheesiness and more seasoning. The garlic aioli was creamy and well-flavoured without being too pungently garlicky. The tomato and chilli jam had a chutney-like flavour, sweet and faintly tart. They went well with the arancini.
The Bruschetta con Funghi had swiss brown button mushrooms, sautéed with freshly picked thyme, on crusty ciabatta with truffle ricotta. The truffle aroma immediately wafted up as soon as the dish was placed on the table. On a rectangular slate plate were two thick slices of house-baked bread, topped with glistening mushroom slices, the cream-coloured ricotta peeking out from underneath the mushroom layer. The bread was still warm. It had a crunchy outer crust, and on the inside had a coarse crumb that was still light and airy. The mushroom slices were cooked down, so that they were tender. They were well sauced and well seasoned. There was plenty of thyme on it as well, though more seen than strongly tasted. The layer of truffle ricotta gave it creaminess, and the truffle notes were more distinct when we went back and forth between this and the arancini dish. This dish had plenty of umami flavour, and the rustic style of bread gave it great texture.
It is hard to plate a risotto with pizzazz, particularly a Mushroom risotto, which is mostly shades of brown. Still, they did try, as the risotto was evenly spread on the shallow dish, and topped with shavings of parmesan and green sprouts. The risotto had the right ratio of sauce to rice, enough that the rice grains were coated and held together, but not so much that the mix was runny. There were pieces of different types of mushrooms, cooked until they were soft, pieces of leek, and wells of truffle flavour where truffle oil had been drizzled. They were flavours that complimented each other well, and we found it to be a tasty dish.
The Patate al rosmarino were explained in the menu as rosemary infused triple cooked duck fat potato chips. They were more potato pieces than chips, and came served as a tumble on a white rectangular dish, garnished with sprigs of rosemary. They had lovely crisp skins on the outside and the potato on the inside was fluffy. Although we couldn’t taste the rosemary, they had just enough salt, and were certainly moreish.
The Pancetta di Maiale was their signature crispy skin pork belly, accompanied with Agrodolce red cabbage, on a bed of olive oil mash. It is actually also available in an entree size for those who aren’t quite as hungry. It was a solid cube of pork, with a seared skin, resting, as described in the menu, on the bed of mashed potato. The skin was indeed crispy, giving off a solid crack when rapped with the knife. It had a cracker-like snap when bitten into, and the entire portion of it was crisp, unlike at other places where half may be crunchy but the other half is still soft. The fat layer had been properly rendered down, and the meat beneath that was tender. The olive oil mash was smooth. It had an almost fruity flavour from the olive oil, which took a little getting used to, as if you are a regular meat and potatoes type of eater, most will tend to expect a buttery, savoury mashed potato with it, rather than a more delicately flavoured mash like this.
We were rather full of food by this point, but couldn’t pass it up when they offered us the dessert menu. On that list were, of course, Italian classics like Tiramisu, Panna Cotta, and Affogato. We were tempted by the Zeppole, explained as traditional Italian doughnuts served with Nutella gelato, Frangelico cream, and warm chocolate ganache. We were dismayed to find out that they were already sold out, as was the Tiramisu. Initial options unavailable, we settled for the Panna Cotta, and an off menu special, chocolate cake.
The Panna Cotta flavour of the day was coffee. It was prettily plated, with piped sweet ricotta around its base, and white and yellow edible flower petals dotting that. Partially hidden under that, we also found sections of moist chocolate cake. The panna cotta itself had a good wobble (the necessary jiggle test). It had a smooth, light texture, and coffee flavour that was definitely present, but also not too strong. It was slightly sweet, and the flavour went well with the chocolatey cake and the lightly citrusy ricotta.
We were initially skeptical about how good a chocolate cake could be, having been disappointed in the past by an uninteresting finish to a degustation at Estelle in Melbourne (while the slice of chocolate cake had been rich, it was..just chocolate cake, and we had been anticipating something more interesting), and especially given the other options that we had had our hopes pinned on. When the dessert was presented, it certainly was not what we expected. It came presented on the plate like a whole miniature cake, with a wedge cut out to show the inside. Pieces of fresh raspberry, piped ricotta, and more edible flower petals, this time in purple and yellow, were scattered around it. The cake itself was coated with a solidified chocolate shell on the outside. On the inside were light chocolate cake layers, separated by a thin layer of what seemed like a raspberry jam filling. It reminded us a little of a Wagon Wheel. It was not too sweet, and was a good finish to the meal. It also had a bit more textural variation than the other dessert, with some crunch from the chocolate on the outside making a good counter to the softer cake on the inside.
We were well looked after by the waitstaff, who frequently checked how we were finding our meals, and efficiently whisked away plates and cutlery between courses (sometimes a little too efficiently, as we tended to linger over our food). We noted that they did the same at other tables as well, and were happy to explain dishes to others.
We had some very tasty Italian food at Mariosarti. While the food wasn’t cheap, it was pitched at the same price level as other modern Italian restaurants, and we have certainly been to other places where we have received less food on the plate for the price. With its cosy setting, it would certainly suit as a special occasion restaurant (there was a group celebrating a birthday when we were there). They do also have a special function room that will effectively fit twenty, with dramatically backlit glass and audiovisual setup so you could play your own music, or do presentations, so it would suit a large group event or business meeting.
Price point: Breads $5.90 to $12.90. Entrees $18.90 to $27.90. Pastas $32.90 to $34.90. Meat mains $34.90 to $58.90. Sides $9.50 to $11.90. Desserts $14.90.
Address: 41 Sherwood Road, Toowong
Phone: 07 3870 4933