My secret place  – La Locanda, Bronte

One of my cooking partners from way back at the Cordon Bleu found her way to Sydney some 28 years ago for a holiday adventure and never came home. So when I unexpectedly changed my life and arrived on these shores almost a year and half ago, rekindling our long lost friendship made settling into Sydney easier and like many of these kinds of friendships we slipped back into the usual routine like we had only seen each other yesterday.

Meribel Chalet Girls.. circa 1983… pissed

29 years on.. slightly less pissed

Luckily for Sydney my friend comes from a talented culinary and green fingered family, she quickly started working in various Sydney kitchens and then set up in the eastern suburbs as ‘The Friendly Flower Fairy” notching up clients such as Jane Campion and Baz Lurhmanne who was drawn to her name in the yellow pages!  Her specialty was creating typical English country gardens!

Like many ex-pats arriving here, it doesn’t take long before their own English family follow in their intrepid footsteps. First her retired sun-loving parents make the leap and then luckily for the restaurant world… her gifted sister, another lovely friendly soul, Fiona Bloomer and her partner Milan born Andrea Vagge arrive fresh and super experienced from years of working front of house and in kitchens of top London restaurants, such as Nobu, Marco Pierre Whites, Nicoles, Harvey Nichols and The Pharmacy.

Fiona Bloomer and Andrea Vagge

Since arriving here 12 years ago Andrea, a self-taught chef, has worked with the finest including interludes in award winning restaurants such as Nove and Otto and with Fiona’s beaming smile and front of house skills she quickly made her name also at Simon Johnson and XO.

So starting their own cosy bistro restaurant La Laconda 8 years ago was a natural progression, serving authentic northern Italian fare that has proved a stonking hit with local residents. I get totally over excited when I enter into the dark contemporary bistro with twinkling tea lights, black and white tiled floor and a wall of wonderful renaissance-patterned cloth. There is an intimate mood and wherever you sit you feel well looked after as the atmosphere bubbles.

The simple menu blackboard dominates one wall and changes frequently and pouring over it trying to decide between dishes is made so much more pleasurable when handed a glass of Prosecco Spritz. If you can’t decide then Fiona or one of her knowledgable waiting staff will order for you and you won’t be disappointed.

Split into five courses, Primi, Pasta, Secondi, Contorni and Dolci the menu is priced reasonably considering the quality of produce, cooking and service. My favourite dish is the Stuffed Calamri ($17) an Italian classic, its filling a mix of ricotta, herbs, breadcrumbs, pine nuts and anchovies. To ensure the flesh remains tender, Andrea briefly pan-fries it then finishes it off in the oven. The accompanying tomato sauce is tangy and the fried tentacles on top are salty and crisp. I would call it a perfect dish!

To celebrate eight successful years at La Laconda, Andrea and Fiona have kindly agreed to let me into the secret of Andrea’s  Stuffed Calamari recipe.. So here it is for you…

10-12 baby squid, prepared or about 1 kilo

2 x bunch parsley, chopped

1 x bunch mint, basil, sage, and chives, chopped

200g Ricotta

olive oil

4 anchovies

150g pine nuts

4 handfuls breadcrumbs

Preheat the oven to 220oC. Mix all filling together, season and stuff the baby squid, reshape and hold together using a toothpick. In a hot oven proof pan add a little olive oil, seal both sides of the squid. Put the frying pan in the very hot oven for 5 minutes, pull out, and leave to rest. Serve the calamari on bed of tomato sauce. To finish, flour and deep fry the tentacles and place on the top. Andrea says, ‘as an option, once the squid is sealed you can deglaze the pan with a little white wine and add the tomato sauce. Put the squid back and cook in the oven for 5 minutes.

 

Andrea Vagge’s – Stuffed Calamari. Styled by me, photographed by Sahlan Hayes for Sydney Morning Hereld

OFFER 

Now you can enjoy this fabulous little find at a great price in the month of July. 2 Courses $39 with glass of wine, 3 Courses $49 with glass of wine. Mention Appetite For Sydney when making a booking. It’s all part of  Sydney Morning Heralds Appetite For Sydney campaign. The initiative aims to encourage diners to eat out more often and support struggling Sydney restaurants.

● La Locanda, 65B Macpherson Street, Bronte, 9389 3666

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