For the longest time, I’ve always defined Italian cuisine in terms of stereotyped staples such as pasta, pizza, and the cuisine’s obsession with tomato & garlic.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that – why fix what isn’t broke? Thing is, a cuisine as colourful is that of Italy is guaranteed to – like an onion – reveal much more than meets the eye, if only you were to look.
That’s how I came across Sardinian cuisine. With a focus on roasted meats, herbs and stewed vegetables and emphasis on seafood, it sounded like the perfect culinary experience to treat my mum to for her 50th birthday. With beachside views, a sentimental, homely charm, and most importantly, purveyor of Sardinian fare, Pilu at Freshwater was definitely the answer to the question “who you gonna call?”
Date Last Visited: 15/11/2014
Address: Moore Rd Freshwater, NSW
Recommended Dish(es): oven-roasted suckling pig; saffron & banana budino
Giovanni Pilu mans the ship that is his namesake restaurant. I am willing to bet that the establishment used to be a beachside house, that has since been converted. As such, there’s a certain homely charm to the place. You almost feel like you’re dining as guests for a lunch party served by friends.
That is, if your friends had a house that overlooked the beach. The view is pretty spectacular. One small issue I did find is that our table was slightly slanted due to the floor, which was a bit off-balancing.
Pilu does the usual degustation options, but we went a la carte this time – two courses are $69 while three is $89. The value for this two-hatter is pretty impressive. Almost reminiscent of restaurant Ormeggio (link).
Coincidentally, 2014 marks Pilu’s 10th year in business. As a bit of a treat to this fact, we receive some pecorino cheese cookies. Cheese cookies – an unbeatable combo.
The sad thing is, all these delicious morsels do is encourage our appetite. Smart move, Pilu! Smart move!
Mum felt a bit fancy, so she ordered a cocktail, the name to which I paid no attention. It tasted like…cocktail. Perhaps I should retire from blogging now.
Classic Italy, providing sourdough with olive oil instead of butter. The parents were very apprehensive about this (given the stigma of oil), but eventually could not resist the heavenly combination that is lightly oiled sourdough with a pinch of salt.
It would have been nice for the bread to come warm, that’s a bit of a hit and miss which appears to be independent of how classy the restaurant is. Pilu was not an exception here.
One of Pilu’s signatures is the ravioli of potato, mint & pecorino. If Pilu’s cuisine is indicative of Sardinia, then the Sardinians sure love using pecorino, mint & sage.
I would have to get this out now: if you’re not a fan of these kinds of herbs (or god forbid, cheeses), you shouldn’t be here. For everyone else, read on!
The ravioli was fairly dense, and mostly mono-textured. That texture is naturally that of potato. It was sort of like a consistent, smooth mash, but “tougher”. Flavours are mostly that of mashed potato, with a bit of butteriness given by the beurre, with herby aromas from the mint & sage.
It’s a nice dish, and I’d be happy to have it again as it’s quite addictive, though from a flavour perspective, it wasn’t as thrilling as I thought.
Definitely the prettiest dish on the menu (hence the cover photo), the scampi, pecorino & guanciale makes more than just a visual impression.
The continued theme of using pecorino means that the scampi takes on a cheesy flavour profile, that works quite well with the buttery flesh of the scampi itself.
What I didn’t expect was that the scampi was actually served at near-room temperature. That’s somewhat cold, relative to what I was expecting. I’m not convinced it works, and am sure that if the dish was served warm/hot, it would taste much better.
For some reason, I never seem to remember the lesson to not order tartare when my parents are eating with me. I’m the only person in the family to eat it.
I guess that just means more of the wagyu tartare w/bottarga mayo to me!
Given the seasoning that’s promised, I would be forgiven to expect a very solid punch of creamy, umami flavour backed up by the scrumptious texture of raw wagyu.
Well, I did get the second part, but not the first. An underseasoned tartare is a pretty big miss. When I had Ormeggio’s tartare the next day (link), let’s just say the competition need not exist.
Pilu’s signature main, the oven roasted suckling pig incorporates everything about what makes Sardinian cuisine tick. All that pig, and so many sides to graze on at the same time.
It’s the true definition of a feast, a fantastic way to enjoy a main that can be shared by all.
Other than some dryness here and there, the pig is excellent. The crackling snaps and crunches like a good bag of Red Rock Deli, and delivers just as much flavour and guilt. The meat is tender, semi-seasoned (for you to finish off with condiments of your choice), and generally just very satisfying to eat.
As long as you like pork, there’s something to be had here – so much choice, how will you decide? Treat your taste buds a little.
Red Gurnard is not a fish I’ve had before, which made it a natural dish to order, going by my spirit of trying new things.
The texture of the fish is quite meaty, so it’s quite similar to barramundi. Fans of the good ol’ barra will be right at home with gurnard.
While I wasn’t wowed by the flavours (“good not great”), the dish still went quite quickly. Curious to try? Make the plunge.
The savouries at Pilu have had their ups and downs, it would be interesting to see what sardinian desserts can pull off. As there were only four options on the menu (I don’t count cheese as dessert), we got them all. Problem?
In terms of peculiarity, the citrus granita w/roasted pumpkin seed gelato is definitely the standout. Very bitter, limey granita is paired with a slightly less bittersweet gelato. This is then backed up by a liquorice cream that definitely does not hide the fact that it’s liquorice. Finally, an additional hit of texture is provided by savoiardi biscuits.
I’ll be honest, I didn’t like it all that much. The dessert, and all of its complexities just didn’t work very well for me. A bit too much bitter, a bit too messy in terms of texture, it just wasn’t there.
If Pilu’s liquorice rubbed me the wrong way, their saffron & banana budino w/malt gelato is definitely where it’s at. In an almost complete reversal, everything works. Textures are awesome – creamy, malty gelato, chunky banana pudding, crunchiness from everything else! Flavours are similarly enjoyable – you can never have enough malt or banana as far as I’m concerned. Of course, peanuts are always welcome!
Favourite dessert, hands down.
We’ve seen two extremes in Pilu’s desserts, so naturally the corbezzolo honey mousse w/ichnussa sorbet falls somewhere in between. Ichnussa is a Sardinian beer, so a sorbet made out of the stuff would make sense, right?
Beer sorbet isn’t usually the first kind of sorbet that I would have thought of, but immediately I realised that the fizzy nature of beer would work quite well as a sorbet.
I wasn’t as sold on the flavour, given its bitterness (I don’t like or drink beer), but the texture was definitely addictive. In fact, I kept eating it because of the texture.
Sweetness does return with the creamy, honey flavour of the corbezzolo mousse, which is also great to mop up with the sponge cake.
Beer lovers would have a field day with this one.
Last in the lineup is represented by a warm entry to the dessert list – Sardinian pastry w/fresh ricotta & warm honey. I have to fess up once again – I’m not a fan of the pastry. It was too rigid, and the texture was too stiffish to amount to anything that was to my palate. Unfortunately, bad texture in a pastry will directly affect its taste as well, and such is what happened. The honey and ricotta didn’t save it, though did improve the overall taste somewhat.
My first foray into Sardinian cuisine was a roller coaster of ups and downs. I guess I should not have expected a gentle journey, and there’s much ground to cover. First impressions do however count: Pilu is a good restaurant, but it is that – good. Bring me some more of that pork, and leave some of the other stuff behind. Choose your dishes accordingly.
Putting all that fuss aside – happy birthday mum! That’s what truly counts 🙂
This post is based on an independent visit to Pilu.
Have you been to Pilu or have had Sardinian cooking/eating experiences? I’d love to hear your thoughts, especially from my perspective as a new-timer.
- The oven-roasted pork and banana budino would make an excellent meal all by themselves
- While not bad, many savouries were only “ok”
- Some very…interesting dessert choices
- The sad realisation that sardinian cuisine is not completely up my alley
I have a new scoring system! Read all about it here.
Most important takeaway – three separate scores for food, service and ambiance to give the final score. The new system is not compatible with any score given prior to 11/11/2014.
F5.5 | S4 | A3