Following a flamingo pink neon ‘dine here’ sign rarely leads to good outcomes, yet ‘Agostinis’ is not your average Italian, nor is it in your average hotel. It could be London, New York or Rome but surprisingly, it’s in our capital, Canberra. A city which has the reputation appeal of Tony Abott’s budgie smugglers, yet The East Hotel is a trendsetter and its latest restaurant venture pushes the design bar just a notch higher.
Owned by the Bisa family, their heritage is recreated in collaboration with designer Kelly Ross. It’s a visual crossword puzzle with clues to their memories of Italy; limestone marble counter flecked with dolomite, cactus flower banquettes, ‘puzzle’ floor tiles, suspended gold baskets along the dining counter, rose gold cutlery, pink billowing curtains and clusters of hand died rope hanging from the ceiling replicating the tradition of hanging pasta out to dry.
It’s taken nine months to design, build and import some seriously cool kitchen gear. Taking up prized space is a golden domed Marana Forni wood fire oven from Verona – a monster, cooking up to 15 crispy roman style pizza’s, and the Ferrari of all pasta machines.
Against such a glamorous back drop vivacious Chef Francesco Balestieri shares this passion. Everything is made in house; from pizza dough naturally leavened for 72hrs, pasta, olives, gelato, fairly floss, to his salami which takes 9 weeks to cure from a 250g batch! They have even collaborated with award winning Ravensworth wines to create Beppo’s Blend from three Italian varietals, plus there are more options on tap (yes wine on tap!).
So what to eat? Kick off with Frico, a regional Friuli dish with ridiculously sinful layers of potato and Montasio cheese cooked in an iron skillet till crunchy and golden. If you yearn for nostalgic memories of Walker crisps with the black packet of salt, ‘Patatine Fritte’ is for you (that little spray bottle of chardonnay vinegar is the most fun you will have in years).
Square spaghetti? Why not! Especially when it’s tumbled with a Sicilian blend of lemon chilli and garlic and deliciously salty bottarga. Soaked in milk for 12 hours the calamari fritti is a perfect example many chefs fail to achieve. And the pizza…flying out at a rate of knots we suggest you try the bianca base topped with broccolini and pancetta.
All of this and no journey home. Is this a hotel or a free cinema? The lobby goes skyward, an Imax size vertical wall of video art, from Machu Picchu images to Poppies makes it tempting to slink into one of the Clockwork Orange chairs, take a handful of complimentary candies from the three jars and settle in for the night. You might expect your porchetta to be free range, but your papers? Pick your favourite mags to chill out with, they are allowed to roam free but return them to their news stand roost at night.
If you are not distracted for a final night cap at Joe’s Bar, zoom up to your luxury one bed apartment decked out in art from Red Bubble; admire the beautiful views over the sparkling city from your balcony. Inside; aqua blue chairs, sleek black designer kitchen and the spa bathroom is adorned with Appelles apothecary with enough fluffy white towels to keep a Dulux puppy happy.
Wake up the next morning to breakfast in a bookstore at Muse. Pan fried mushrooms with pesto and toast or chia with fresh fruits.
Almost every great capital has its own area of ‘Little Italy’ and now Canberra has one too – Agostinis isn’t little but its Artesian detail enable us to celebrate the best of from a family who know how to deliver it with heart and passion.