I’VE been intrigued by No Mafia for a few years now as it’s the sort of restaurant name that not so long ago could earn the owner a horse’s head on his doona.
Upon walking through the restaurant’s narrow entrance you enter a long, enticing alleyway that debouches into a cavernous space with an open kitchen filling more than half the width of the building.
Clean, tiled walls and masses of shiny stainless steel in the kitchen are juxtaposed by bar-style seating on the opposite wall, with rough brick and Italian cantares tastefully shirking any notion of a red-and-white checkered tablecloth.
As eclectic as the background music, alternating between a 60s Italian crooner and a song whose hook is “politics is violence”, is the menu layout – all shares with only a line spacing and price increase to indicate portion size.
The menu at No Mafia is a clear attempt to do things differently and breathe new life into Italian cuisine with dishes like charred swordfish, sicilian beef cheek, and cuttlefish with nduja, baby potatoes and black olives.
The friendly waitress points out that while the larger share plates will work as a single meal, having two of the smaller dishes would also suffice.
I took her advice and ordered the charred asparagus in parmesan cheese and a plate of coppa, fresh giardiniera and polenta crisps.
It didn’t take me long to get into the mindset of No Mafia, testing a different combination with each fork and breaking all Nonna’s unwritten rules in the process.
Everything is pleasingly just right: the asparagus has char marks without a hint of charcoal, the coppa melts in your mouth perfectly and the giardiniera is delicious.
About halfway through my meal I pause to check the wine menu, which has clever three-word tasting notes like “mineral, brioche, chalky” or “fragrant, tobacco, charred blueberries”.
Asking the waitress over again, she cheerfully describes the Occhipinti ‘SP68’ Nero D’Avola as “experimental…kinda funky.” It is.
Her wine description also sums up No Mafia: it’s not where you go for rote pasta and a parmigiana, but rewards curiosity and those who peer past the tiny front bar and venture inside its cavernous interior.
by JUSTIN STAHL
11/189 William St,
Mon-Sat, 12 noon-late