There’s only so many hours in the day, days in the week, weeks in the months, months in the year. That’s the excuse I always give when I realise that despite nearly four years of living in Sydney, there are still a number of areas that I’m yet to visit. I’m pretty familiar with the North Shore, but I know nearly nothing of areas like Clovelly, Maroubra, Leichhardt, Lilyfield or Five Dock. I’d never even been to Woolloomooloo so when I received an invitation to try a meal at Criniti’s Woolloomooloo, I instantly accepted – not only for the meal, but for the reason to check out the area as well.
Unfortunately, our dinner reservation was for one of those rainy nights that Sydney has been plagued with in recent weeks, so K and I didn’t get much of a chance to stroll around the streets of Woolloomooloo. From the little I saw though, there’s ample foodie reasons for K and I to return and explore the areas and its many food offerings on a slightly more temperate day without the driving rain and winds.
The weather was keeping a lot of people away on the week night that we went. There were a few larger groups dining together, but we were one of the only couples that had braved the weather to go out for a romantic dinner together. Many of the other restaurants along the wharf seemed to be suffering from the same issue of low patronage – the Sydney Storms clearly affected businesses as well.
While we were perusing the extremely large menu, the wait staff came over with an interactive menu on an iPad for us to use, where you could flick through and see visual representations of the drinks and desserts. It made it a lot easier for us to choose our drinks – a Tutti Frutti mocktail for me (pineapple juice blended with coconut milk), and a Johnny Sak cocktail (pineapple-based with mint and citron) for K. My mocktail was very sweet and creamy with the mix of fresh strawberries with the coconut milk. With a banana thrown in to thicken up the mocktail as well, it was actually very filling and almost a mini-meal in itself!
K and I had a lot of issues trying to decide what to order. Criniti’s menu is intimidatingly large – four-fold brochure measuring almost half a metre in height. I venture to guess that there’s probably close to 300 items on the menu, from Starters to Appetisers, to Pastas, Pizzas, Calzones, Grill, Steaks, Seafood, Burgers…there’s a lot to choose from! For someone like me who likes to try everything, being given the choice of almost 50 different pastas and 50 different pizzas was really overwhelming.
We finally decided to order one starter, one appetiser, one entree-sized pasta, and one pizza – giving us the opportunity to try one of the main parts of the menu. There was a little disappointment from K that he wouldn’t get to try something from the grill, but I think I convinced him that ordering three mains plus two starters between two people would be foolhardy – especially if we wanted dessert after the meal as well!
We started with the Fichi e Prosciutto – figs wrapped in prosciutto with gorgonzola cream. It’s kind of an unbeatable combination – soft sweet baked figs, wrapped in salty cured meat, with strong cheesey sauce. The only thing that I would suggest to improve this dish is using a slightly saltier prosciutto as I personally prefer a stronger flavour – this is very subjective though, and most people would probably enjoy it as is!
The next starter that we tried was the Frittelle di Melanzane – eggplant fritters served on a bed of sweet tangy tomato chutney. I loved these! Given, I’m a bit of a nutter for eggplant, but the slow roasted eggplant flavours of the fritters really came through and worked well with the tang of the chutney. I think I’m going to try to replicate these at home.
When we cook pasta at home, my first instinct is to always load up the sauce with vegetables to counter the carbohydrate content of the pasta and enhance the nutritional value of the meal. Ordering this Spaghetti con Polpette at Criniti’s reminded me that pasta is meant to be simple. Home-made spaghetti. Home-made tender soft meatballs. A simple tomato sauce. Freshly grated parmesan. That’s all it takes to create an amazing dish of pasta. Now if only Mama Criniti could pass on her recipe for those meatballs…
When you can’t make a decision about whether to order a pizza or to order a calzone, why not get the best of both worlds and order a Mezzaluna – a half pizza, half calzone? I feel like this would satisfy both Leslie Knope’s desire for pizza and Ben Wyatt’s desire for calzones. (If you didn’t understand that reference, I don’t think we can ever be friends.) Personally I preferred the calzone side of the mezzaluna – the mix of mozzarella, mushrooms and prosciutto was excellent.
We were pretty much stuffed after the starters and mains, but at least we still had our dessert stomachs ready to go! K ordered the Cassata even though he didn’t have his Lacteeze tablets (he’s lactose intolerant) with him. I personally would have preferred larger chunks of candied fruit in the cassata, but the gelato itself was pretty good – light and fluffy rather than being too dense and rich.
This was the real winner though – Zeppole, or Italian doughnuts with a Nutella dipping sauce. Now I’m a bit of a Nutella fiend, but I think most people would enjoy this dessert! One particular highlight were the roasted hazelnuts scattered around the plate which provided some much-needed texture in this otherwise soft and doughy dessert.
Criniti’s can be a difficult restaurant to visit as a couple – the menu is so large that you really feel a sense of FOMO because you’re restricted in what you can order. Did you choose the right pizza? Did you choose the right pasta? Should you have ordered a steak instead? Maybe you should have ordered one of the other fifty entrees?
If we were to visit again, I think we would have to invite a number of friends and go as a larger group the way the other diners on the night were doing. The menu is really designed for those larger groups, especially with their options of ordering a 3 metre long pizza! The upstairs dining area of Criniti’s Woolloomooloo is also designed for larger groups, with private dining areas for groups of 20 or so. We’ll be back for group dining, but probably not couples dining.
Note: Gourmanda visited Criniti’s as a guest of Sweaty Betty PR. All photos and words are her own.