After a relaxed lunch at Mr Mick’s Kitchen and an afternoon probing the township of Clare for local produce to take back home, it was time for Alexandra and I to move on to our dining destination in the state heritage listed, copper mining town of Burra. Usually better known for its ‘pub grub’, Burra is now home to approximately 1,400 people and a restaurant which could initially be referred to as ‘out of place’.
La Pecora Nera or The Black Sheep when translated to English, is a traditional Italian osteria restaurant which is owned and run by Paolo and Clare Vitozzi. The couple met in Tuscany before moving back to South Australia and setting up shop in Burra roughly 18 months ago. As South Australia is home to many Italian people and restaurants, I was looking forward to discovering how accurate the use of the word ‘authentic’ would be.
Housed in the old Burra Bazaar, La Pecora Nera looks, from the outside, like an oversized tin shed. Stepping inside, it soon becomes very clear that the depiction encountered outside fits perfectly with the traditional styling of the interior. You immediately feel the warmth, not only from the eye-catching clay brick pizza oven, but also the friendly and homely nature of the staff.
Browsing over the menu it was clear that pizza was a big deal in this establishment, but I was curious as to what other delicacies I would be tempted by. Unlike the more formal ristorante and semi-casual trattoria, an osteria is a very casual and relaxing eatery offering a more local and non-formal menu with spontaneous daily specials. Here the definition could not be truer - you even serve yourself drinks from the old pull handle fridge; wasting no time, I wandered over and helped myself to Menabrea Birra to familiarise myself with the process and sample an ale from abroad.
Agreeing on a shared option, Alexandra and I decided on the following dishes:
Starter: Antipasti – Caprese e Salumi (mozzarella & tomato salad and cured meat).
Main: Pasta – Broccoli e parmegiano (broccoli and parmesan).
Pizza – Prosciutto e funghi (prosciutto ham and mushroom).
Watching Paolo work in the open kitchen whilst munching on crusty, garlic infused bread was entertainment enough, but choosing to sit at the table closest to the piano and record player, provided the added responsibility of being in-house DJ’s. With a large selection of old vinyl, it was an interesting, interactive addition to the evening, providing some randomly appropriate music to what had now started to feel like a journey to another country rather than rural town.
Having two large oval plates of anti-pasti placed in front of us left us wondering how we would fit it in, let alone the 2 mains we had ordered. I immediately steered for the salumi antipasti, which was made up of mortadella, coppa collo, salami, prosciutto and marinated mushrooms. It tasted sensational and had my mouth working with its salty, smokey cured intensity.
Utilising my crisp beer to reacquaint my tastebuds, I moved onto the caprese plate. The tomato was ripe, firm and wonderfully sweet whilst the mozzarella was subtle and almost marshmallow like. Drizzled with olive oil and garnished with torn basil, the freshness of this dish was a direct contrast to the salumi, making them the perfect accompaniment to each other.
Glancing over at the neighbouring table, we noticed the gigantic proportion of the pizza. We may have overestimated our post lunch hunger and miscalculated the enormity of the pizza oven. Before we had a chance to allow the starter to digest, we were presented with our almost table-sized pizza and serving of broccoli pasta.
I sprinkled some olive oil over my pasta which, as any traditional Italian pasta should be, was quite minimal with topping. The silky soft ribbons of egg pasta were undoubtedly homemade; the slight sensation of chilli came through on the back palate without overpowering the true essence of the broccoli and freshly grated parmesan. This dish didn’t clog, clutter or congest my stomach anywhere near as much as first anticipated, which was fortunate due to the whopping great pizza that still sat before us.
With a well timed break to change the record to an aptly chosen Dusty Springfield I returned, gasped with anticipation, and took my first bite from the gigantic wedge of prosciutto and mushroom pizza. The thin hand-thrown base with appropriately measured coverings of napolitana and mozzarella, allowed the flavours of the toppings to pervade. This is the type of pizza you would expect from an establishment who labels themself as authentic - you truly get a sense of what you would be eating in Italy.
Pushing our plates away to stop ourselves from gorging any further, we were offered coffee to conclude the evening. We graciously agreed and ordered a macchiato and cappuccino. To further tempt me, I was asked if I would like a shot of grappa in my short caffeinated concoction. Unfortunately, due to driving, this wasn’t an option and neither was the generous offer of Limoncello, which left me wondering why I decided not to stay in the region overnight.
In such a relaxed and hospitable environment, it was hard to leave, however after ordering another 2 coffees and holding the staff back from knocking off, we felt it was time to release them from their duty. There is no doubt I was in another place, maybe not Italy but I had certainly been taken on a journey of epic proportion without having to leave this incredible state of South Australia.
Although the mining boom has long departed from this once bustling town, it surely won’t be declining any further with a wonderfully quaint Italian osteria such as this in it. With so many fascinating places to visit in SA, I recommend you add this to your list and discover more of our state’s history. Simply yet sufficiently put, Salute!
Average Menu Pricing
Pizza $12.00 - $17.00
*Daily Specials and prices
Where: 3 Upper Thames Street, Burra, SA 5417
Trading: Wed to Sun for Pranzo (Lunch) 12pm – 2pm and Cena (Dinner) 5.30pm - 8.30pm
Contact: (08) 8892 2886 (for bookings - 0400 516 896)