JUST SAY CHEESE
Cheese wheel food theatre gives Godi La Vita an eat-street edge in the heart of Hyde Park, right down to a retro dessert
At Godi La Vita, the aroma of melting cheese is worth its own menu item.
Cheese tragics alert: An immersion is happening in Hyde Park – Italian style.
There aren’t too many more comforting sensations than the whiff of toasty cheese, and at a table right next to the open kitchen at Godi La Vita, the aroma never gets old.
Chef Federico Godi regularly acts out his signature cheese wheel food theatre for an eclectic array of diners who keep up a convivial buzz that bounces about the casual space decked out with blond timbers and a cool mix of pendant lights.
As each cheese flambe show begins, camera-ready groups step up to the open kitchen and block our view, snapping the process where the chef douses a giant parmesan or pecorino wheel with brandy, then sets it alight. But that cheesy waft keeps driving our appetites, even though we’re tucking into traditional steaks and roast duck.
Once the lick of blue flame in the wheel has disappeared, leaving a layer of bubbling, melted cheese, chef swishes creamy pasta into the cavity, coating the handmade ribbons and curls with a rich yellow coating.
Alas, mushrooms make the parmesan fettuccine version look an unappetising grey, but it does smell good. Much prettier is the strozzapreti hand-rolled pasta tumbled and flambéed in the pecorino wheel, with pear, walnuts, cream, and a final piquant hint of balsamic. Add Italian sausage if you like.
On this highly competitive eat street, the cheesy flourish is a smart point of difference for the owners, Federico and Laurie Godi, whose name is worked into their first restaurant’s title, altogether meaning “Enjoy Life”. Another asset is the smart and jaunty young staff, who know their stuff.
The cheese-wheel cooking is re-enacted from the chef’s family dinner memories growing up in Florence. He also is one of a rare few in this city, making all the pasta, and everything else, down to the grissini, in house. As the evening ends he is at the openkitchen bench working a giant ball of pasta dough.
The rest of his menu is built on Italian classics.
A mod seafood cocktail of three plump chargrilled prawns, a flashback to the 1970s favourite, has a refined foamy cocktail sauce that lends a more muted late hit of sweetness.
But, a thick slab of mixed meaty terrine is too fridge-cold to really get a sense of the layered and pressed flavours. Perhaps ask for a rested version of the generous slice partnered with a “giardinera” variety of pickles, toasted sourdough, port jelly and a delicious onion jam.
In the mood for cheese, I opt for a scrape of raclette over bistecca tagliata for main. The beef, a steak sliced from the bone, is rare, pleasantly fatty, the big flavour nicely cut by slightly tart salsa verde and rocket tucked underneath.
The half-wheel of raclette has been bubbling away and lightly toasting under a purpose-built cheese grill. As the chef’s knife sweeps across the top layer so it falls in soft folds on to my meat, the first impression is that is seems like a pretty scant serve for the extra $7. But, the soft and runny puddle, delightfully chewy at the edges is rich, so rich, and definitely enough.
It’s a good sign that our waiter must return several times before we can decide on desserts. We like the idea of them all, but the liberal plates so far mean this will have to be a shared course.
For us, the chocolate ravioli bit-of-fun special is a miss. The dark choc pillows are thick to stodgy rather than a luxurious match for the centres of soft housemade stracchino cheese sweetened with caramelised orange, and topped with blueberries.
Much better is the coffee panna cotta, the colour of a strong latte, with silky wobble, white choc crumbs and summer fruit macerated in port, the combo again lending a flashback to decades-ago-style late-night coffee, cake and digestifs after a night out.
A parmesan and pear coppa gelato would have been a preferred refreshing twist, but it’s popular, and has sold out. That’s one for next time.
Main picture, Godi La Vita beef; top, the dining room; and, above, coffee panna cotta