Is the decade-defin­ing bread of the ’90s back on the rise? DAVID MATTHEWS checks the coun­try’s bread bas­kets.

Gourmet Traveller (Australia) - - OCT -

Is the bread that de­fined the ’90s back on the rise? We dip into the coun­try’s bread bas­kets.

The ques­tion rings out into cy­berspace: “What are your favourite focaccia fill­ings – either those you buy or make your­self?” I’m deep in archived Vogue

Aus­tralia fo­rums. I ex­pect no re­sponses, or maybe some light ridicule.

But the an­swers fly back: pesto and lemon; chicken, av­o­cado and Swiss cheese; char-grilled eg­g­plant, sun­dried toma­toes, feta. Four pages, all pos­i­tive. Then, on 20 April 2005, it goes silent. And I think to my­self, I’ve pin­pointed when focaccia died in Aus­tralia.

Died? Maybe not. You can still have it the way you used to: at Trop­i­cana Caffe in Syd­ney’s Dar­linghurst focaccia ser­vice runs till four; Brunetti in Mel­bourne still kicks it how it al­ways has. Take a turn through lit­tle Italy and focaccia won’t be very far.

We know focaccia. We’re fa­mil­iar with its Ro­man roots, its pit­ted sur­face, the lib­eral use of olive oil. We know it be­cause it was ev­ery­where, packed with char-grilled veg­eta­bles and grilled in sand­wich presses. For a time it rep­re­sented the height of cos­mopoli­tan café cul­ture here, but for some­thing that was at ev­ery cor­ner café, some­how it went wrong. Was it Atkins? Sour­dough? And why, over a decade af­ter the trail went dead, is it back on menus?

“Peo­ple are re­claim­ing things that were ru­ined by mass pro­duc­tion,” says Mike Eg­gert of Syd­ney’s Pin­bone team, who is about to open a focaccia-for­ward Ital­ianate pop-up in Mas­cot with Jemma White­man, his Pin­bone part­ner.

“We love focaccia,” he says. “But it still makes me think of this fluffy, white, bull­shit ver­sion. That’s every­thing focaccia shouldn’t be.”

Eg­gert and White­man first made the bread at 10 Wil­liam St, and they’ll be bak­ing it again when Mr Liquor Dirty Ital­ian Disco opens this month. They might en­rich the dough with lard and potato, treat it like br­uschetta, serve slices with ’nduja, or straight-up to tear apart and load with but­ter that’s been whipped with drip­pings from the wood-fired oven.

“Focaccia fills a niche – it’s got an amaz­ing tex­ture with­out be­ing too chewy, an amaz­ing flavour with­out be­ing sour,” says Eg­gert. “We use a mix­ture of soft ‘00’ flour, and strong flours – which help the wa­ter ab­sorp­tion – loads and loads of olive oil on top, which stays in the dough so you get this chewy, crusty, salty, oily, fuck­ing sick bread.”

If it sounds bold to open a place fo­cused on a bread that fell out of favour, then Fugazza is the bold­est, hav­ing opened in 2011 in Mel­bourne with the aim of rein­tro­duc­ing the bread to the city. Their Tus­can-style ver­sion is baked crisp, and not pressed or toasted be­fore be­ing made into sand­wiches. But they’re not alone. In Ade­laide, How the Focaccia opened last year in Hind­marsh. Back in Syd­ney, Dust Bak­ery sells schi­ac­ciata slick with olive oil and crusted with salt

The team at Porteño launched their lat­est venue, Wyno, with a dark loaf that sits on the counter, ready to be sliced and swiped through whipped lard. Chef and co-owner Elvis Abra­hanow­icz, who’s done ver­sions since Bodega opened, thinks a resur­gence is over­due. “I ate plenty of it in the ’90s, but then you couldn’t get it for ages,” he says. Wyno’s ver­sion is puffed and thick, an in­flu­ence from Ar­gentina. “It’s a bit like a sponge cake,” says Abra­hanow­icz. “We cook it quite hard – it’s got so much fat in it that it never burns, just goes de­li­cious.”

Focaccia is also in the bread bas­ket at Neil Perry’s new Syd­ney out­post of Mel­bourne’s Rosetta. Head chef Richard Pur­due tested dif­fer­ent flours and oils be­fore set­tling on the dough, which is laced with ho­ji­blanca olive oil and proved for al­most 24 hours: “We knock it back by prod­ding it with our fin­gers, let it come up again, and then be­fore it goes in the oven it gets an­other big dose of olive oil over the top.”

Salt and rose­mary are in the mix, and it’s topped with oil once more be­fore head­ing out to cus­tomers. “It’s funny, when I was talk­ing to peo­ple about the restau­rant open­ing up, and the focaccia, so many were like ‘Oh, what are you, lost in the ’90s?’” says Pur­due. “Ev­ery­one didn’t re­alise it was com­ing back.”

“I think it’s been long enough that peo­ple are will­ing to give it a go as a bit of a nov­elty, and then they go ‘oh, I see, I see’,” he says. “It’s like f lared pants – it’s been just long enough.”

Mr Liquor Dirty Ital­ian Disco, 952 Botany Rd, Mas­cot, NSW; Fugazza, 31 Eq­ui­table

Pl, Mel­bourne, Vic; Wyno, 4/50 Holt St (en­ter via Glad­stone St), Surry Hills, NSW; Rosetta, Grosvenor Place, 118 Har­ring­ton St, Syd­ney, NSW

The focaccia at Syd­ney’s Wyno.

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