Nicholls’ newest restaurant has debuted strong in the toughest of times, delighting locals with their food trifecta: delicious Italian cuisine, an inventive breakfast menu and a display case stocked with luscious cakes to enjoy with your cup of coffee.
Integral to much of what Cucina Ristorante does is their pièce de résistance: a wood-fired oven churning out mouthwatering pizzas, breads and breakfast dishes!
This trattoria was very nearly called the Red Onion. Owner Sam says it was close, but Cucina, the Italian word for ‘kitchen’, won out.
And as we enter Cucina Ristorante, shaking off the drizzle of another rainy spring night in Canberra, the restaurant envelopes us in warmth and familiar aromas, very much like a Nonna’s comforting, homey kitchen.
The original concept was that he would run a coffee cart out of the vacant liquor store next to the Nicholls IGA. But after a walkthrough of the site, Sam says he couldn’t sleep that night. In fact, thoughts of that space and its potential stayed with him all week. And, somehow, despite never having owned one before, he could imagine a thriving pizzeria operating out of the space.
With the building’s owner backing Sam 100 per cent, Cucina began to materialise.
“By February, the momentum was steady,” he says. “Cucina’s interiors were on the way and the plumbing was just going in when the COVID-19 lockdown began.”
Sam credits the support of the local neighbourhood, who faithfully ordered takeaway meals, for getting the new restaurant through its first year. He is thankful to for the Cucina team who have become family.
“I hit the jackpot with our head chef Raja. He came from San Francisco. He brings that style to our dishes. And our pizza chef Sujan is fantastic.”
Sam is a can-do guy who has been in the food game for a long time.
Cucina is his first restaurant, but he has previously owned a couple of cafes in Canberra. For many years he also worked in distribution, first with Farm Small Goods, before moving on to form his own company, Fine Food Distributors. But an itch persisted, a deep desire to create a place where people gather over good food. And Sam loves what he does – you can see it in his big smile and in the warmth with which he greets diners.
If you are having dinner here, one way to experience a wide selection of Cucina’s menu is to order the banquet.
The entree includes antipasti, calamari and garlic bread while main course serves up four different pizzas and four different pasta dishes.
Dessert features tiramisu profiteroles with locally made gelato and New York cheesecake.
For our dinner, we start with bruschetta – balsamic-marinated tomato slices on wood-fired bread, drizzled with olive oil.
Our Cucina salad is a delicate balance of bitter and sweet, radicchio tossed with the magical trio of toasted walnuts, pear slices and pungent morsels of goat’s cheese. A subtle hit of maple syrup sweetens the tangy dressing.
We enjoy the flavours in the homemade ravioli, one of the day’s specials. The tender ravioli is stuffed with beetroot and ricotta and topped with sautéed mushrooms, olive oil, rocket, cherry tomatoes, parsley and toasted walnuts. I hope it stays on the specials board for a long time. It is delicious.
Our Gamberi pizza is a white sauce base baked with spinach, leeks, prawns and mascarpone. First, that crust! Perfectly crisp outside with a tender, spongy interior, the wood-fired oven has worked its magic, infusing every bite with smoky deliciousness. The toppings go together well and the drizzle of chilli oil is subtle and perfect. Scrumptious and satisfying!
Make sure you pop in and experience breakfast at Cucina. They had me at Wood-fire Breakfast! Sam describes it.
“Think bacon, mushroom, tomato and string beans on our homemade bread. We put it into the wood-fire oven for a few minutes. It gets all cooked up, comes out, and then we crack the eggs on top and then put them back in the oven until done.”
Cucina Ristorante is located at 29/88 Kelleway Ave in Nicholls.
Cucina is open for coffee and cake every morning. It is open Wednesday to Friday for lunch from 12:00 pm to 3:00 pm and for dinner from 5:00 pm to late.
On Saturday and Sunday it is open from 9:00 am to 3:00 pm and then for dinner from 5:00 pm until late. They do takeaway and will soon be available on Uber.