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Monday, March 07, 2011

La Casa Ristorante, Russell Lea

Polpette della Mamma $14
Mama's original style meatballs served with woodfired bread

The meatballs, says Tony Ruggeri, started off as a joke. He and his sister Carmel, co-owners of La Casa Ristorante, had always kidded around about putting their mum''s meatballs on the menu of their new restaurant. As the restaurant opening drew near, Tony said, why not? Let's put them on.

"Meatballs? Are you serious?" replied his sister. Thank goodness they did. La Casa has all the finishings of a serious restaurant, but these taste just like a homecooked meal, chunky hand-shaped meatballs that are jaw-droppingly soft, smothered in a rich tomato sauce that is thick and tangy. This is a dish made with love, by an Italian Mama who always knows best. Of course she does. Mama Giuseppina comes in every second day to make these meatballs herself, and you can feel the meatballs wrap their way around your stomach in a hug with every comforting mouthful.

You only have to watch the reception desk for a few minutes to witness the irrepressible charm of hosts Tony and Carmel at work. They may as well be standing in their living room, welcoming friends to their home. Their smiles are genuine, the laughter is constant, and every customer looks like they've been here a dozen times before. They probably have.

The dining room extends down to the woodfired pizza in the kitchen down the back. Huge prints of Italian street scenes adorn the walls, and rustic wooden tables set with sparkling glassware are fancy enough to please the romantic couple, without being too intimidating for those with young families. At this early hour on a Friday night, we spot several school kids happily holding aloft slices of floppy pizza as their parents nurse precious glasses of wine.

Margherita pizza $16

Even the simple offer of "sparkling or tap water" when we sit down is enough to impress. We choose tap water as always, but it's nice to not have to politely decline a mineral water up-sell.

We start with margherita pizza, perhaps a little soggier than we would have liked with its generous slather of fresh tomato sauce, but the base is light and airy and the Fior Di Latte mozzarella yields plenty of cheesy string action.

Fettucine con gameberi, aglio, olio, peperoncino, spinaci e capperi $23
Fresh fettuccine pasta with prawns, garlic, olive oil, chilli, spinach and capers

It doesn't take long for Tony to notice my camera, and after realising who I am, he offers a free round of drinks which we steadfastly decline. "Don't you know you should never say no to a Sicilian," he warns, and it's only later we realise our desserts have been comped from the final bill.

Meanwhile we move onto the fettuccine with prawns which has enough garlic to wipe out every vampire in Bon Temps. Carmel says it's the dish she eats most often at the restaurant. "This is just like the spaghetti we make at home," she explains. "We have a big dinner, we play cards, and then we make a big pot of aglio e olio for supper - just olive oil, garlic and chilli."

'Nsalata Portualla orange and fennel salad $8

A small pot of orange and fennel salad offers palate-cleaning refreshment, fine slivers of licorice-scented fennel sweetened by fresh segments of juicy orange.

Linguine con granchio, porri e tarragon $23
Fresh linguine squid ink pasta with king crab meat, baby leek and tarragon

I've left our favourite dish until last, the squid ink linguine that has us each furtively returning for more. The glossy black strands of pasta are sexily smooth and slippery, the faint taste of squid amplified by fat lumps of king crab meat dotted throughout.

Tiramisu $13

There's no question about dessert. We dive our spoons into a glass of tiramisu, creamy with mascarpone and covered liberally with shavings of real chocolate. There's more mascarpone than espresso-soaked savoiardi biscuits, but thankfully it's not overly sweet, and we relish the boozy dregs at the bottom.

Cannoli Siciliani $8 for two

We finish with the Cannoli Siciliani, crunchy scrolls freshly piped with a whipped ricotta that's as light as mousse. Thank goodness we ordered one each, otherwise things would have gotten very messy.

Tony and Carmel Ruggeri

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La Casa Ristorante on Urbanspoon

271 Lyons Road, Russell Lea, Sydney
Tel: +61 (02) 9712 3882

Opening hours:
Tuesday to Sunday 5pm-10.30pm
23 comments - Add some comment love

posted by Helen (Grab Your Fork) on 3/07/2011 03:21:00 am


  • At 3/07/2011 4:43 am, Blogger joey@forkingaroundsydney said…

    What a lovely looking tiramisu, and I love squid-inked anything! :-) Dunno about supercharged garlic though.

  • At 3/07/2011 8:18 am, Blogger Stephcookie said…

    Everything looks so mouth-wateringly good! I've been dying to go to La Casa, especially for those famous meatballs. Hopefully as the cooler weather approaches it will kick me into action so I can finally try them.

  • At 3/07/2011 8:25 am, Anonymous Tina@foodboozeshoes said…

    Everything looks seriously drool worthy! Can I have pasta and meatballs for brekky...?!

  • At 3/07/2011 8:59 am, Anonymous The Extra said…

    Good Lord! This place is just around the corner from home. Thanks for bringing it to my attention. Lyons Rd, Russell Lea is abundant with good restauranmts (and not so good ones - I'm looking at you Via Leoni!). I want to try Vatel again, now that it's reopened just up the road.

  • At 3/07/2011 9:24 am, Anonymous Dumpling Girl said…

    I love the story behind those meatballs :)

  • At 3/07/2011 9:28 am, Anonymous Minh said…

    Gorgeous photos Helen! I especially love that one of the Squid Ink Linguine, looks amazing.

  • At 3/07/2011 9:32 am, Anonymous Jessi said…

    it's at times like these that i wish i lived in australia! i miss italian food. that tiramisù looks divine, and those cannoli *drool*

    just as a random, though, it's aglio e olio, without the l. :)

  • At 3/07/2011 10:44 am, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Yuummmm don't see much squid ink here so yay! And mmmmm meatBALLS!

  • At 3/07/2011 12:34 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Home-style Italian food and service are hard to beat!

  • At 3/07/2011 1:25 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    La Casa is the best name for this restaurant, i have had the pleasure of eating at there home and i can tell you it is not an acted, tony takes his job very seriously. alot of blood sweat and tears go into la casa, and when u taste the food you will taste it. you have to try the rabbit it is to die for.

  • At 3/07/2011 1:44 pm, Anonymous Queen Mab said…

    the ink linguine look so good!
    The only time I made ink risotto I had black ink all over the kitchen, clothes and hands :(

  • At 3/07/2011 2:12 pm, Anonymous Hannah said…

    Oh, how I love squid ink pasta! Funnily enough, the only time I've eaten it was at an Italian restaurant ... in Japan. I actually don't know if I've ever had meatballs in tomato sauce though! Isn't that silly?

  • At 3/07/2011 2:28 pm, Anonymous Arwen from Hoglet K said…

    I love your description of the meatballs! A meatball hug sounds truly comforting.

  • At 3/07/2011 2:52 pm, Anonymous chocolatesuze said…

    i want a meatball hug!

  • At 3/08/2011 12:34 pm, Blogger Bianca said…

    That fennel salad and squid pasta and meatballs sound amazing! Actually it all looks good. I definitely want to visit!

  • At 3/08/2011 9:49 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I really enjoyed my meal at La Casa, but I must say, a tiramisu weak on coffee and light on savoiardi biscuit....is not tiramisu (but La Casa, easily fixed, no?)

  • At 3/08/2011 10:08 pm, Anonymous Simon @ the heart of food said…

    How recently did you go? I'd heard from someone who'd gone a few weeks ago that the soggy pizza issue was no a problem.

    Aren't those meatballs divine? :)

  • At 3/08/2011 10:41 pm, Blogger Demos said…

    Reading this makes me want to visit to and have the squid ink linguine which wasn't available when we went. Wouldn't mind a meatball hug also.

  • At 3/09/2011 4:10 pm, Anonymous Chanel said…

    What a lovely restaurant. It all looks fantastic! Especially the fettucine con gamberi :D

  • At 3/10/2011 1:59 am, Blogger Helen (Grab Your Fork) said…

    Hi Anon - Yes, definitely trying the rabbit next time!

    Hi Hannah - It's odd I much prefer spaghetti and meatballs to spag bol. I must make a batch soon!

    Hi Simon - I was here last weekend, and yes the meatballs were amazing.

  • At 3/11/2011 11:34 pm, Anonymous sara @ Belly Rumbles said…

    Their ribs are pretty rocking too!

  • At 3/13/2011 12:07 am, Blogger Rita (mademoiselle délicieuse) said…

    Love squid ink pasta! And garlic! Only problem being that the garlic loves my breath for a little too long afterwards =p

  • At 8/17/2012 9:25 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    This used to be our favourite restaurants in the area. Unfortunately this has changed. We went back there after trying some other places in the area and found that they had cardboard garlic pizza (without the garlic), Mama’s meatballs which used to be the one dish I couldn’t go past, the recipe has changed and is now full of oil. The kids calamari was soggy and very salty, and the king prawn risotto tasted awful. How much can go wrong in one meal? The only thing that kept us there until the end was the overpriced bottle of wine which we weren’t prepared to leave, as they are no longer BYO. When we raised it all with Carmen, she didn’t want to know about it and just said that we liked to complain. Well sorry, to put up with crap food is one thing, but to also put up with an owner in denial, is another. Never again – Sorry Tony.


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