At The Bar with Chef Nicola Ronconi

Italian born chef Nicola Ronconi, who has worked in Italy and London, brings his share-plate hospitality to the menu at Nico Restaurant in Sydney. It’s here his northern Italian small bites menu packs a punch and channels a clever culinary artform too. He talks to The Write Drop about his favourite interstate bar, a Massimo Bottura dish he can’t stop thinking about and a Barossa Valley winery he loves.

He spoke to us for our At The Bar series.

MY CITY

I am originally from Vicenza, a city between Venice and Verona in Italy.

FAVOURITE FOOD MEMORY

Osteria Francescana. There was this dish I only saw on the Internet, “the hare in the woods”. As soon as I walked in, I asked the first question if their dish was still on the menu. They told me they were serving it as a small version as the last course of the meal. It arrived, this little one-bite chocolate shell, hare blood sauce covered by different dusts. I had a food orgasm; my head exploded with all those different flavours in my mouth. I ended up asking for a second one, no matter how much they wanted me to pay for it. Just WOW!

FAVOURITE BAR

Dean and Nancy holds a special place in my heart. Everything about this bar, from its ambience to its cocktails captivates me. While I’m normally a Negroni drinker, when I go there ,I always try some of their unique cocktails.

DRINK THAT DESCRIBES YOU

I’ll say a negroni, bitter flavour but everybody loves it.

BEST HANGOVER CURE

Nothing beats scrambled eggs cooked in lots of butter, Parmesan cheese, and crispy bread.

BEST INTERSTATE BAR

Lina Brisbane. It’s a stunning rooftop bar where you can savour delicious cocktails and relax by the pool, all while enjoying the breath-taking view.

FAVOURITE WINE

For special occasions; Leeuwin Estate Art Series Chardonnay. It’s very rich and creamy.

FAVOURITE WINERY

My favourite winery is Rockford in Barossa. Their Shiraz is absolutely divine, and the winery itself is nestled in a charming and cosy setting

NEXT DESTINATION

Japan! I love sake and can’t wait to go there.

HOW HAVE YOU APPROACHED THE MENU AT NICO

The first part of the menu is composed of small plates. The idea comes from Venice, where I normally do the “baccari” tour (small bars where wine is served by the glass). In these baccari, people typically consume a glass of “moro” (red wine) and a “cicchetto” (little bite). The idea is to have my guests try these three bite dishes and experience different flavours. Then we have all the handmade pasta designed to be shared. The signature Gigli, friarielli, Italian sausage, fermented chilli is a must-try. We also have a beautiful wagyu flank, snapper in potato crust, and cotoletta with Calabrian sauce. To finish, the famous Lemon tiramisu.

A SMALL DISH HIT ON THE MENU

When it comes to ordering share plates, diversity is key. We want our menu to offer a range of flavours, textures, and ingredients to delight everyone’s taste buds. One dish we’re particularly proud of is our Gigli with Italian sausage, friarielli, and fermented chilli. It’s like a warm hug from home but with a gourmet twist that keeps you coming back for more.

HOW DOES YOUR ITALIAN HERITAGE PLAY OUT IN THE KITCHEN

Respecting the traditions, I love to take traditional recipes and dishes and transform them in a modern way. The most important thing is always to remember where the dishes come from, what was the idea behind them. Italian cuisine is beautiful because it is so different region to region; that’s why I feel lucky to get inspiration from the North where we use more meat products to the South where there is more seafood used.

WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO BECOME A CHEF, WHAT DID YOU TAKE FROM WORKING FOR THE URBAN PURVEYOR GROUP

Working in a big company like Urban Purveyor taught me how to deal with numbers. As I was the Executive of seven restaurants, I was the one looking into budgets, menus, hiring, and speaking with suppliers. They gave me the tools to see restaurants from another point of view and understand better how a business works in 360°.

WHERE DOES YOUR CULINARY INSPIRATION COME FROM

As for inspiration, it can strike anytime, anywhere. Whether I’m strolling through a market or lying in bed at night, I’m always thinking about new dishes, flavour combinations, and ways to elevate the dining experience for our guests. It happens when I see a plate in a shop and imagine what I can serve on it.

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