15 April 2024

Authentic Italian at Amici wine bar and deli is a casual dining delight

| Genevieve Jacobs
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person grabbing a slice of pizza

What’s not to like about piping hot pizza with hand-stretched dough? You can dine in or order from Amici’s menu for delivery or pick-up. Photo: Amici Bar/Facebook.

Canberrans like to flatter ourselves that there’s more than a touch of Melbourne here in the national capital, but in truth, access to the kind of casual European cafe/deli food our southern city does so well has taken a while to arrive.

Amici on Northbourne in the Melbourne building is an excellent contender if you’re looking for fresh, cheerful, authentic Italian.

Visiting on a weekday night for a casual dinner with friends, our group of five passed stacked delicatessen goods and rows of preserves before being seated on long tables decked with wax-encrusted candles in wine bottles.

We were looking for share platters and a light meal, beginning with marinated olives spiked with herbs, which arrived promptly.

Our waitress was knowledgeable about the cheese and charcuterie, and our blended platter arrived heaped with Jamon Serrano, an Adelaide Hills triple cream brie, a particularly delicious Meredith Dairy marinated goats’ cheese, crunchy pickles, generous servings of quince paste and a large basket of Laurent Bakery sourdough. It was a sizeable starter.

Amici is proud of its hand-stretched pizza dough, and the two pizzas we ordered came piping hot, fresh from their ovens.

person making tiramisu

Tiramisu made at the table is an Amici specialty. Photo: Amici Instagram

The Salsiccia was topped with Napoli sauce, mozzarella, pork sausage, red peppers, kalamata olives, Spanish onion and bocconcini, a well-balanced mix of meat and cheese with a crunchy, yeasty crust.

The prosciutto arugula on a Napoli sauce base was heaped with prosciutto and enough rocket to create a pleasantly fresh, bitter contrast without overwhelming the plate with salad.

One of our party was gluten-free, sometimes a challenge for decent pizzas, but the crust was crunchy and delicious, almost indistinguishable from the non-gluten-free offering.

Amici has an extensive list of cocktails, fauxtails, and aperitifs, including bottomless mimosas and a wide selection of spritzes, which are ideal for a late brunch or sunny weekend lunches on the terrace outside.

That wasn’t the vibe on this weekday night, but we chose a Somos Mencia from the Adelaide Hills and an Aquilani Pinot Grigio from Friuli from a comprehensive wine list with plenty of local options, finishing up with coffees all around.

While we didn’t order dessert on this occasion, I was intrigued by the promise of a tableside tiramisu – ladyfinger biscuits drizzled with St Ali coffee and topped with vanilla mascarpone and cocoa as you watch – surely a more accurate representation of this oft-traduced dish.

There’s also a savoury version of the same performance as Dellendale raclette is melted and scraped tableside over jamon and crisps.

restaurant with food display outside

Amiciu’s dessert cart is tempting for passersby with a mid-afternoon cannoli craving. Photo: Facebook.

Doing Italian food well has been a challenge, but Amici effectively straddles the challenge of fast, familiar dishes and authenticity.

Artisanal sardines from a family-owned Portuguese company have their own section on the menu, served with guindilla chilli, and every Tuesday night, Amici does bottomless pasta with a dish of the day from the kitchen.

There are brunch and prix fixe options, and a date night special for two that comes in under $100 for pizza, raclette, olives tiramisu and a glass of wine each. That sounds like a good deal to me and very competitive with what you’d pay for a movie and less impressive food elsewhere.

Amici isn’t fine dining and doesn’t pretend to be. This is a place for sharing platters and grazing dishes, a fast pizza or idling over your cocktails with gorgonzola-stuffed figs or pork rillettes.

Our bill for five came in under $250, and we were well served and well fed in a cheerful atmosphere. The food was delicious, reasonably priced, arrived promptly and was exactly what we needed for a casual meal where the focus was on conversation.

As Amici says about the bottomless pasta option, mangia mangia!

Amici is in the Melbourne building, 59 Northbourne Avenue. It’s open Monday to Friday from 11 am to 11 pm, Saturday from 11 am to 1 am, and Sunday from 11 am to 8 pm. Book through their website or follow them on Facebook or Instagram for updates on live performances, pasta of the week and other goodies.

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