Oct 1, 2023 Restaurants
My first meal at Bossi was bookended by hits of amaretto. It began with a Romagna sour, one of their intriguing house cocktails, combining amaro, amaretto and primitivo, and ended with me nibbling away at the pistachio-encrusted side of a cannolo until I reached the juicy burst of a maraschino cherry embedded at the other end. The cannolo was crisp, with a fluffy ricotta filling — none of that chocolate business that so often ruins it.
If you read the hype about Bossi prior to and around its opening, you’d be forgiven for thinking it’s as much a design concept as it is a restaurant. It does, indeed, have beautiful décor — all marble countertops and dark wood panels in the style of European restaurants. There’s a wall of wine, complete with a ladder. And yet, thankfully, it manages to be warm and inviting rather than cold and pompous. A delicate balance has been struck well.
In recent months, I have eaten dinner twice at Bossi, as well as visiting for lunch and dessert. It is a solo diner’s delight, with a sweeping bar, open kitchen and incredibly comfortable, swivelling bar seats with padded backs and footrests. I also love nothing more than a bartender with a conspiratorial air, a finely balanced hand with cocktails, and as much knowledge about and enthusiasm for the food as for the drinks. And that food is very, very good.
My main sadness in dining alone at Bossi is that I always want to have the Florentine steak. And while, on a trip to Florence, I once took one of those down by myself, it didn’t end well for me (major meat sweats). One of the excellent bartenders at Bossi commiserated with me about this dilemma but, perhaps sensing that I was on the brink of attempting it anyway, suggested that it would take a “large man” to finish one alone. Wise counsel.
Bossi’s website is at pains to emphasise that it serves “authentic” Italian fare, although it doesn’t focus on any particular region. I take it as a good sign that Italians actually eat at Bossi (judging from the animated, lilting hum I’ve heard from neighbouring tables). The restaurant delivers serious Italian cooking with a straight face and proper attention to detail; it isn’t afraid to serve more difficult or obscure dishes. I tip my hat to whoever in that kitchen mastered the quiet Sardinian kung fu of shaping culurgiones — pasta dumplings which, in the new season’s menu launched in May, are stuffed with baccalà (salt cod) and smothered in a bisque-like caper sauce that clings beautifully to the pasta. The perfectly regular braid down the seam of the dumpling supplies a toothsome al dente chew. Elsewhere on the menu, the polpo carpaccio with pickled vegetables features wafer-thin shavings of octopus and vegetables with a mild and pleasant level of acid. It feels like eating a fresh, light salad.
Risotto is a dish that can make or break a restaurant. It is often done badly, or blandly, and can showcase the patience (or lack thereof) of the chef. I therefore found it bold to have three mains on the menu comprised in whole or part of risotto — but I loved the scampi and mascarpone version that I ate. It had a garlicky ribbon running through it and a savoury punch from its garnish of finely shredded dried chilli. The rice hit just the right point on the sloppy-yet-solid continuum.
The standout feature in many dishes at Bossi is the sauce. There are plenty of shiny, beautifully emulsified and deeply flavoured sauces — whether the thick pool of jus surrounding the signature two-by-four of lasagne, the creamy caper sauce on the culurgiones, or the aromatic cream sauce on the mushroom agnolotti with its touch of port-sweetness. This reflects an old-school, technique-driven way of cooking that most restaurants don’t take the time to execute. The puddled sauces make you purr, and smack your lips, and finish them up with a (cleverly offered) spoon even after the pasta is gone. I was also thankful to find that the portion sizes at Bossi are on the generous side, and this extends to Deli di Bossi next door, where I had a quick and pleasing workday lunch of toasted bread piled high with mortadella and stracciatella (and, of course, a wine).
As a general rule, it’s not good form to review a restaurant in the first few months after it opens. I get that everyone wants to know if it’s worth eating there, and everyone likes the hot new thing, but a restaurant needs a little time to find its way — to try things, iterate, fine-tune and then hopefully take it up another notch. Bossi has been open for six months now, give or take. I’d say it is most of the way up that curve. What are my residual complaints? That I’ve tried to order the calamari ripieni (stuffed baby squid) on each of my visits, but the dish has been off the menu due to supply issues for, I’m told, two months or so. I would prefer a menu to tell me what I can order, rather than what the chef would like to cook if it were feasible. Perhaps best to remove it from the menu until it becomes available. My complaint, then, is that I feel teased by a good-looking dish — which is scraping the barrel for things to whine about. I also raise a slight eyebrow, with interest more than criticism, that they chose not to go 100% Italian on the wine list given the emphasis on authenticity.
On my most recent visit, after the menu change, I discovered that the Bossi cannoli were now flavoured with chocolate and hazelnut. I’m very much in the “leave the gun, take the cannoli” school of life, but chocolate in cannoli is enough to send me to the mattresses. I expect the majority of you will disagree with me, however, so I understand the chef’s choice … but it makes my heart weep a little. Where else am I to get my ricotta/cherry hit this side of Christmas? That night, having eaten three savoury courses and contemplating a sweet, I leaned over to my neighbours — a pair of work colleagues from Asia, in New Zealand for a conference — and asked them how their Florentine steak was. Because they were struggling to finish it, they promptly foisted three plump slices on me, thereby saving me from chocolate cannoli for dessert. The steak was beautiful. Melt-in-the-mouth, perfectly seasoned and incredibly moreish. Of course, I still ordered a cannolo, because I am both a glutton and open-minded. To my immense relief, it came with a maraschino cherry embedded in one side. And chocolate notwithstanding, it was (grumble) rather good.
Address 10 Commerce St, Central City
Contact 09 948 0906
Hours Monday–Saturday 12–10pm