Your very own Italian escape…
Whilst we may not be able to visit Italy this year we can go to Ettalong!
There are two aspects to this Italian trattoria; you can sit street side, as you would on the alleyways of Rome, and watch the world go by whilst drinking a glass of vino or find a cosy corner in the back section - a foyer to the old cinema, a time capsule from a regal era with its golden marble floors and columns, dark leather and velvet loungers and armchairs, all of which feel like a scene from an Italian movie.
Which is right on theme with the establishment named after the Italy’s equivalent of Charlie Chaplin; Toto was a very famous Italian actor and director and made his mark in black and white silent films.
So, with a classic cocktail in hand prepare to settle in for a night of drinking and eating, then maybe some more eating and drinking. Welcome to Bar Toto.
When we visit, there is a couple who have brought their own chess set – they’ve ordered two Old Fashioned cocktails and are settled in at the window seat adding to the atmosphere of Bar Toto’s street appeal, immersing themselves in their game and only lifting their heads to order another round.
Understandably too; you come for the relaxed old school charm and you stay for the cocktails. This a cocktail forward establishment and rightfully so with Peter Clarke, part owner, being previously named in the Australian top 100 cocktail craftsman list. Whilst you will find all the Italian classics here (Aperol Spritz, Campari Orange – I may have even got a Campari Sour on request), it is their Negroni that is unique
“Anyone can make a Negroni, however no one has aged barrel Negronis” explains Harley Soames, Bar Manager.
“It is unique to Bar Toto and gives a different flavour to the cocktail”.
As a self-confessed Negroni connoisseur I tend to agree it is (in my humble opinion) one of the best you will get on the Coast – balanced with an oaky flavour.
Harley’s suggested go to cocktail is the Lumberjack Old Fashioned. A concoction of rye whiskey, maple syrup and Canadian Club, whiskey barrel bitters, and they smoke the glass with hickory giving it a wonderful flavour.
The theatre of creating the drink is well worth observing from a seat at one of the front high tables – smoke from the hickory fills a glass and as Harley lifts the smokey tumbler and the Old Fashioned is revealed with a perfect sensory experience to accompany this classic cocktail.
Harley explains even with Peter’s credentials the team still get creative license to experiment behind the bar; you can see this passion coming through in Harley’s artisan approach to mixing the drinks and explaining the unique Italian alcohol on the shelf that you won’t find in many other bars.
An essential accompaniment to the cocktails is the perfectly curated all Italian menu. Andrew Marks has been working in the kitchen for 3.5 years and this fresh faced 20 year old cooks with the confidence that would make a proud Nonna squeeze his cheek and let him get on with it.
It is in the kitchen you see the strength of Peter’s business partner Jerry Altavilla come into play. Jerry’s Nonna’s signature meatballs, made fresh in-house over 6 hours, are melt in the mouth and hearty enough to sustain another a drink… it would be rude not to.
Andrew expertly talks us through the Antipasto that is sourced from a specific Italian supplier and explains the accompaniments of pickled onions and green beans are made inhouse.
These classic additions to the antipasto are traditionally Italian and continue to deliver on the authenticity of the venue; even down to the fresh bread they get from their neighbours Osteria il Coccia which, with a house made caramelised vinegar and olive oil, give me all types of Roman holiday flashbacks.
Whilst we may not be meandering the cobbled streets of Italy this year, at least we can enjoy the best bits right here on the Central Coast.