Restaurant Santino is tucked into the side of Globe Lane in Wollongong’s CBD. An unassuming entrance with a few quiet tables belies the hustle and bustle within as you wander back to the main dining room.
The space is moodily dim which only serves to highlight the open kitchen pass and impressive wall of ‘things in jars’. I have enough light to read by, but the neighbouring table resorts to using a phone torch to decipher the menu. Retro posters adorn the walls and it feels cosy – full but not oppressive, even with every seat in the house taken.
My thoroughly cheerful waiter talks me into a couple of oysters to start, and also helps me choose a very nice glass of light Italian red wine.
The South Coast oysters are plump and cold, served on ice with chilli vinegar and pickled celery. She was right – they were a delicious way to start the meal.
For my entree I’ve chosen octopus with polenta, nduja and carrot. Every mouthful is delicious, and the nduja adds a beautiful kick of heat which is tempered by the creamy polenta. Octopus is a particular favourite of mine and this dish did not disappoint, although I would have liked a touch more acid to cut the richness.
Watching other tables I notice most have ordered pasta for their mains, and I’ve done the same tonight. Although I’m tempted to return with a friend for the impressive bistecca. Instead, I order pappardelle with beef shin ragu and parmesan foam.
It’s a generous portion when it arrives, and it’s absolutely loaded with the parmesan foam, as well as a scattering of freshly grated cheese. I’m initially a bit worried that the cheese will overwhelm the dish but my fears are unfounded. The foam melts in the mouth leaving an umami richness and, when stirred through the beef, adds a level of creaminess. The pasta is perfect, the beef is so tender, and the wine is on point. It’s the kind of meal that makes you close your eyes to savour it all the better.
Restaurant Santino has gained popularity in the area as a special occasion restaurant. They maintained their chefs hat for the second year running in 2023, and seem to have nailed a winning formula. Unlike many fine dining or upmarket restaurants they cater for children, and the family at the table next to me seemed to be enjoying their child-friendly pasta options.
After giving me a minute to recover from the main meal, my server brings the dessert menu. I settle on the vanilla panna cotta with rhubarb and olive oil. Rather than an individually set dome, the panna cotta is a scoop taken from a larger dish. I wonder if this technique allows them to use less gelatin, because this is one of the most delicate panna cotta I’ve ever had the pleasure to eat. The rhubarb actually has a bit of bite to it – both in terms of texture and acidity. And the olive oil is a revelation. It’s a delicate, floral oil which seems to pick up all the flavours of the dish and roll them around my palate, elevating the dish from delicious to divine.
Restaurant Santino is located at 2/17 Globe Lane, Wollongong. They are open from Wednesday to Sunday, 5 pm until late, and for lunch from Friday to Sunday, noon – 3 pm.
Follow them on Facebook or Instagram, and book a table on their website.