The similarities between my homeland, an island in the middle of the Italian Tyrrhenian sea, and Australia don’t stop just at warm weather and long beaches. I was reminded of that as soon as I walked into Pilu at Freshwater, an oasis of calm that seems miles away from Sydney and could come straight out of a Porto Cervo beach mansion.
As a Sardinian abroad, I couldn’t help but be fascinated by the history of Sardinian immigrants in Sydney and marvel at their achievements in a place so far from home but, in some ways, so similar to it.
Pilu is a Sardinian restaurant with a view on Freshwater beach. Think Sardinian sandy white beaches with colours spanning from light blue to emerald and Sydney sunset paired with white curtains, cushions and wicker chairs and you have a classy, minimal dining environment that serves nothing but the best typical Sardinian food.
Affable and welcoming owner Giovanni Pilu gave me a tasting of his signature Sardinian dishes to cure my Sardinian blues. We started with cheese crostini topped with pecorino mousse and spring onions, introducing the typical antipasto from my homeland: crispy and light carasau bread to dip in ricotta and abbamele honey. It doesn’t get more authentic than this!
Every Sardinian house I know of stores carasau bread for dinners and guests. Carasau is a very thin kind a flatbread, crispy as if toasted and seasoned with oil, salt and rosemary. It generally comes in the shape of a dish half a meter wide. and it’s made by taking baked flat bread and separating it into two sheets, which are then baked again. Sardinians like to blend sweet and savoury, hence the ricotta and abbamele dip, a mix that always keeps you coming back for more.
After the carasau came the main, leading with fregola, the Sardinian version of cous cous. Made with pumpkin seeds and pecorino broth, it was a special take on a typical dish, experimenting with the broth and the seeds providing a lighter, softer texture than the general slightly crispier seafood fregola.
As per Sardinian tradition, seafood dominated the menu. It was hard to pick a favourite between the trout cake with pecorino and mustard and the grilled octopus with a potato, fried rosemary and olive crumbles tart.
The dessert ended it all with a bang: Pilu’s Sardinian seadas, a fritter filled with ricotta, pecorino cheese and raising, gave me all the home feels and it’s made even better by the corbezzolo honey and orange peel garnish.
The wine list, too, is as Sardinian as it gets, with a succession of Sella e Mosca, Argiolas, Cannonau and sweet Malvasia wines, without missing out on the Mirto and Limoncello, typical Sardinian liqueurs that smell like home. Too bad I am not drinking!
I recommend booking a table with a bay view to enjoy the incomparable views and feel like you’re actually in Italy. The lovely and attentive staff will make you feel at home… or as if you’re in a Sardinian trattoria.
Giovanni Pilu came to Australia from the little town of Padru in 1992, where both he and my father played for a small football club. He was only 20 and didn’t speak English. He says: “Despite this I was welcomed really warmly by the community, I felt great from the word go.” Always attracted by the “far and mysterious” Australia, he decided to move here permanently once he met his wife Marilyn Annecchini.
In Sydney, Pilu means the best Sardinian cousine, after Giovanni and his wife introduced Sydney-siders to the traditions of our small Mediterranean island. Giovanni’s first restaurant was called Cala Luna, like a famous wild beach in Sardinia complete with cliffs and caves. He and his wife and business partner Marilyn opened Pilu at Freshwater in 2004, serving a mix of imported and locally sourced products, including a yummy house-made ricotta.
In 2012, Giovanni published his first book with Penguin Lantern and in collaboration with Roberta Muir, A Sardinian Cookbook was a further win after securing two “top hats”, the Australian equivalent to Michelin stars.
As a Sardinian, I can confirm you can’t get better food than this – sometimes not even in the homeland. This was my face after the meal.
Pictures: Benedicta Harendt
“On the beach”