By Vivienne Pearson
During travels, I observed that Italians have a quiet confidence in their hospitality. Their love of food comes across without pretension and there is an understated joy that comes with every meal.
I haven’t had the pleasure of visiting Sardinia, the Italian region that is the second-largest island in the Mediterranean Sea. Yet, after meeting Manuel and Norma Agus, who hail from Sardinia, I suspect this culture of generous hospitality is equalled there.
Manuel and Norma are co-owners of Trattoria Basiloco, an Italian restaurant with a Sardinian twist in Byron Bay. Heading on to three years in, Basiloco has assumed a quiet confidence in their huge range of traditional food and drinks.
‘We recently added the word ‘Trattoria’ into our name,’ says Manuel. ‘A Trattoria serves simple and tasty food without fancy looks.’ The truth is that Basiloco are a step above a traditional trattoria – thanks to their cloth rather than paper napkins and a wine list that includes rarities for $100+ – but the principles apply. The emphasis remains firmly on good food made from the best ingredients, and good old-fashioned hospitality.
And what food it is! I focused on trying dishes with a Sardinian element. I am a sucker for arancini and greatly enjoyed the fennel-flavoured Sardinian sausage version, featuring super-stretchy pecorino and mozzarella cheese. The Carpaccio Di Tonno; sashimi-grade yellowfin tuna, is beautifully presented along with radish, a light ‘secret sauce’ and, my favourite element, roasted garlic chips.
A Sardinian speciality is bottarga – cured fish roe – that is made locally by Salumi (another business founded by a Sardinian). Bottarga forms the basis of Basiloco’s Sardinian signature dish of spaghetti with clams. Manuel warns me that the salty, fishy taste is strong and therefore ‘not for everyone’, but it is certainly for me – it is delightfully flavoursome.
He also warns that the pasta is done truly ‘al dente’, which again is fine with me. This is one example of where the confidence combines perfectly with hospitality; though pasta is cooked al dente, it can be cooked to a softer consistency if the customer requests it.
Similarly, steak will be cooked to a customer’s liking; however, anyone amenable to guidance will be encouraged to enjoy it rarer than medium. With the range of alluring dishes on the menu, I wouldn’t have selected the eye fillet, but Manuel and Norma’s hospitality won out and I’m glad it did – served with roasted potatoes and zucchini frittata, it was simply the most tender and juicy steak I have eaten in a very long time.
With all that sampling, I will leave it until next time to try a thin-crusted pizza, cooked in a state-of-the-art pizza oven complete with rotating base. I can guarantee that, with more than 25 options, you’ll find one you like!
With two Italian chefs working magic in the kitchen, Norma and Manuel are the front-of-house staff. Their passion for drinks is as great as their love of food. Though I don’t drink much wine, I greatly enjoy a few sips that perfectly complement my food. The wine list is extensive, focusing on Italian and Australian wines and includes the Sardinian varietal Vermentino.
Trattoria Basiloco offer a great range of cocktails and Italian-based aperitifs, including an Aperol Spritz, which combines aperol, prosecco and fresh orange slices.
Locals are well looked after by Basiloco, with daily specials, 10 per cent discount cards and free main meals as a birthday present for members.
This is a dinner that you can book with the quiet confidence of knowing it will be a meal to remember.
Trattoria Basiloco: 30 Lawson Street, Byron Bay (next to the library). Open for dinner from 5.30pm every day except Tuesdays. Bookings preferred: 6680 8818 www.basilo.co
Manuel and Norma Agus at Trattoria Basilico – photo by Vivienne Pearson
Spaghetti Arselle e Bottarga Pasta with a Sardinian twist
Carpaccio Di Tonno