I don't often make plans for Italian restaurants, which is inexplicable since I love Italian food. Then again, there aren't many styles of cuisine that I don't enjoy so perhaps I'm just not picking favorites. I heard about Bucci through some other Brisbane food blogs and became curious. One night, I wandered into Bucci's website and found their menu. I was instantly sold.
Bucci came accross as an Italian restaurant, rather than a typical Australian-Italian eatery with an exclusive focus on pizza and pasta. I know there are other Italian restaurants around with 'proper' mains (i.e. a protein and sides) but I hadn't personally been to any. The more I read the menu, the better it sounded. I knew I had to try the food.
Bucci is a large restaurant that opens out onto James Street, Fortitude Valley. My first thought was "wow, they're really busy". We got there at 9pm on a Friday, after being told that all earlier tables were booked out. It was indeed packed. The volume of chatter was high and I found I had to speak up to carry out a conversation.
Espresso martini and Italian beer
We ordered some drinks to start with. I went for the Bucci espresso martini and Marc tried an Italian beer. The martini was very nice and I ended up having another of the same, which I suspect is what kept me awake all night.
As I mentioned before, the menu has greater diversity than most Italian establishments I've been to in the past. Sure, there is pasta on the menu (and they all sound amazing) but they are described as entrees, which I am led to believe is what Italians traditionally eat pasta as. There is also a range of shared starters ('assaggini'), meaty mains and sides. I saw a huge list of desserts but because I'm still doing my no-sugar challenge, I ignored it to avoid temptation. We ended up getting a starter to share plus a couple of mains and sides.
Calamari ripieni alla calabrese - chargrilled local squid filled with homemade calabrian sausage, squid ink and lemon aioli
Our starter was the sausage-filled calamari. The presentation was beautiful; almost too pretty for a share plate because I had an urge not to disturb it. I cut open a cylinder of calamari and found it to be neatly stuffed.
Calamari cut shot
The sausage filling was on the salty side and dominated the calamari. A squeeze of lemon did help to cut through this. I liked the squid ink aioli and in fact, it was the first time I took note of the flavor of squid ink rather than just the colour. I liked this dish but a higher calamari to sausage ratio would have been good.
Plate 1 of 'Agnello affumicato nel fieno' - hay baked rack of lamb
Marc and I were briefly shocked and concerned when the lamb was brought out on 2 plates. We thought it was both our mains and that the servings were tiny. Thankfully, they represented just the one dish. The rack was served in a little clay pot on a bed of hay and the potato and peas on a broad plate.
Close-up of lamb rack
I thought the lamb was outstanding. I see many restaurants claiming that something is cooked a certain way (e.g. wrapped in leaves or smoked or charred over open flame) that is supposed to bring forth an extra element of flavor but often they don't deliver. This lamb had a strong, distinct hay aroma that was a great point of difference from most other lamb dishes. I thought it was cooked to perfection too with just the right amount of pink.
Plate 2 of 'Agnello affumicato nel fieno' - porcini crushed potatoes, peas and pancetta
The potato and peas flavored with porcini and pancetta was a great example of how tasty veggies on the side can be. I wouldn't mind a whole bowl of this stuff for weekday dinner.
Pollo alla diavola - "Devils chicken" spicy chargrilled spatchcock, wilted silverbeet and grilled polenta
We expected the spatchcock to be spicy, given the name 'devils chicken' but the reference to hell merely applied to the red colouring. I didn't think this was spicy at all. The flavor didn't stand out to me but the bird was cooked well. What blew my mind was the silverbeet. I couldn't believe what I was tasting. It was buttery but also tangy from the tomato sauce under the spatchcock and that combination was just unreal. I ignored the bird and slurped away at every last bit of silverbeet. This dish came with a side of polenta chips which amounted to some overlap because we ordered a side of polenta chips too.
Polenta alla griglia - grilled polenta chips with parmesan and salsa verde
The polenta chips were thick cut and crunchy with a hint of parmesan on the outside. The inside was grainy, soft and subtly corn-flavored. I liked them and it was Marc's first time trying polenta. He thought they were interesting. As a side, they were served with salsa verde which was a nice compliment.
Fagiolini all'aglio - green beans with garlic and anchovy
The other side we tried was the green beans with garlic and anchovy. Of all the dishes I found this to be the least impressive. My experience at Malt has lead me to realize that there IS such a thing as amazing beans and that I shouldn't expect mediocrity. Even the peas that came with the lamb were tasty. These beans were a bit rubbery and promised of garlic and anchovy but I couldn't detect much flavor.
I went to Bucci believing it to be popular only from the hype of being new and its trendy location. The food took a while to come out but in terms of taste, exceeded my expectations. The hay baked rack of lamb and wilted silverbeet (part of the spatchcock dish) were the highlights of the meal for me but the dishes were all pretty well executed. Even though Bucci was really busy, our waitress was super friendly.