UPDATE January 2015: 26,000 pizzas and counting! The Star Gold Coast’s own Italian restaurant Cucina Vivo has ticked off two milestones this month with the famed wood fired pizza oven churning out its 25,000th pizza coinciding with the venue’s first birthday. While the Prosciutto e Arugula is the most popular pizza, the Nutella pizza has also made a real impact.
Alongside the pizzas are more traditional meals and inspired interpretations of classic Italian dishes including the Tortelloni Ripieni and the Cioccolato Rosso Ferrari (pictured below), which will both feature on the ‘il Preferiti’ (the Favourites) five-course menu available for the entire month of January 2016 in celebration of the venue’s first birthday. Congratulations Cucina Vivo!
Like most gourmands, I’ve got a food bucket list. My list would include Noma, Tetsuya’s and, of course, Ristorante Grotta Palazzese in Italy, clinging path-like around the edge of a cliff overlooking the ocean.
It’s the cliff-top restaurants along the Amalfi Coast that provided the inspiration for Cucina Vivo. The Star Gold Coast’s latest restaurant is also their first outdoor venue, the stunning terrace facing away from the gaming tables to overlook the newly renovated pool and city lights. Fresh and bright, there’s a distinct seaside feel to the spacious venue, a breath of fresh air with a flood of natural light. Seating 250 people in a variety of areas with contrasting aspects, Cucino Viva will soon extend its culinary reach to provide room service to the hotel.
We’re dining by invitation at Cucina Vivo, ‘Kitchen of Life’, at a Sunday lunch. Greeted at the door, we’re ushered past the Bezzera Eagle, a grand and beautiful brass coffee machine pulled straight out of Steam Punk heaven! At a purchase price which could buy a small car, we know our Vittoria Oro blend will be in good hands!
But it’s the huge pizza oven which forms the centrepiece of the décor, action and cuisine of this kitchen; the restaurant’s fiery, beating heart. It’s the tool which cooks not only the pizzas but also the seafood and meat for the restaurant’s dishes, leaving in its wake the lingering textured flavours of wood smoke.
A wide bench skirts around the oven, dotted with herbs, eggs, lemons and olive oil. No pretense! This is a working kitchen, with high tables overlooking the action, much like a chef’s bar. We watch as our meals are prepared, the pizza bases thrown perilously into the air, topped, before being carefully tended in the brooding coals.
Maurizio is a pizzaiola from Naples (the home of pizza) who, with Roberto, makes the pizza as well as all the pasta served in house. He tells us in detail the secrets of his great pizza dough, even available in gluten-free. “Simple!” he says, before continuing with a detailed explanation. My eyes glaze over. Simple Italian food… Oh yeah! Having dried homemade pasta on washing lines strewn throughout the house, we’re more than happy to leave the work to the experts!
The dishes roll out in a neat procession: a generous Antipasti del Salumiere (salami, provola and giardiniera) freshly sliced and beautifully arranged on a wood platter (20); Cozze al Forno – a pot of black mussels given a healthy kick of surprise with minced pork sausage, garlic, tomato and white wine (18); Pizza Proscuitto e Argula Pizza, dotted with prosciutto San Daniele, rocket and parmigiano cheese (23) and Tagliolini Marinara, the ribbons of pasta dotted with seafood still smoky from the pizza oven. They’re rustic dishes to share, hands in, chins dripping, deliciously similar to the way they’ve been cooked for generations.
I’m enjoying a glass of Prosecco with the meal. Citrus fruit with overtones of apple and pear, the delicate acidity of this lightly sparkling wine suits the food really well. It’s fairly low alcohol, but ripe for a party – the sort of bubbly you could drink for hours! Surprisingly, it’s not an Italian-made wine at all, but Brown Brothers ‘Limited Release’, grown in the cool climate of Victoria’s King Valley.
At dinner time there’s a more extensive menu. Pizzas, pastas, Dal Forno (15 – 29) and Piatti Forti (Mains 28 – 45) emerge from the oven, licked by the flames; modern takes on classic dishes such as Oven-Braised Wagyu Beef Meatballs and Lasagna di Carne with layers of home-made pasta, bolognese, béchamel, parmigiano and mozzarella.
Dessert is still to come.
We’d heard a rumour and it’s true. The king is dead! Michele Ferrero, ‘the richest candyman on the planet’ according to Forbes magazine, had died on Valentine’s Day. A billionaire whose company makes Ferrero Rocher, Tic Tacs and Kinder, Ferrero is best known for inventing Nutella to beat the cocoa rations of World War II, adding vegetable oil to ‘Gianduja’, a chocolate and hazelnut paste. Ever since, Nutella has been a key player in the family fortune!
Cucina Vivo boasts a Ferrero tribute pizza with nutella, caramelised chocolate buttons, fresh strawberries and hazelnuts spread over an airy, light base. Of course we must pay homage to the king! The pizza’s simply delicious – a treat to share.
The chefs at Cucino Viva are Italian so it’s ironic that their kitchen backs on to that of Kiyomi. We chuckle even thinking about the behind the scenes cultural interface, exuberance and precision meeting like branches of a river!
“We’re always busy. Sometimes there’s pressure, but it’s compensated by the fact that we have the passion,” the gentlemanly Sous Chef Matteo tells us. It’s the passion handed down through childhood memories and recipes from generation to generation.
The passion shows! There’s attention to detail, smiling faces and genuine interest in customers. Italian bonhomie flows out into the restaurant mingling with the aromas of delicious cuisine.
An animated conversation breaks out in Italian at the next table as one of the staff members jokes with a customer. Inevitably, we’re drawn into the laughter, the invisible barriers between our tables falling away. We realise that as we’ve eased into lunch and interacted with staff, our meal has taken on meaning. More than just a meal, it’s become an experience.
Life is good! This year we may not get to many places on our bucket list; certainly not to Ristorante Grotta Palazzese! The outlook over a hotel pool will never compare to the rugged views of an Italian cliff face but, until we get there, lunch at Cucina Vivo is a whole lot of fun!
The Star Gold Coast, Broadbeach Island, Broadbeach Ph: 1800 074 344
Open: Mon – Sat 5.30pm – late
NOTE: GFGC were guests of Cucina Vivo.
This review has also been published on Blank Gold Coast.
Photo of Cioccolato Rosso Ferrari supplied by Cucina Vivo.