The only food preparation I let the boys help me with, is the making of pizzas. Besides not being able to cope with the mess they create in the kitchen, I'm a bit of a control freak when it comes to cooking and little fingers just don't meet my OCD standards! Our kid friendly home-made pizzas consist of pita breads, tomato paste, luminous yellow home brand grated cheese, Coles deli ham and tin pineapple. So when I took my eldest along to a Mini Pizza Chef class at The Italian in Willoughby he was brimming with confidence as he knew how to make pizza! Oh how wrong the poor little tacker was.
On Friday and Sunday afternoons between the hours of 3pm - 5pm, The Italian in Willoughby let little hands from the ages of 6 - 12 years into their kitchen to create pizzas with their master pizzaiolo - Ivano. The cost of this experience is $25.00 per child and for that kids make and eat their very own pizza and their parent/carer receives a drink to imbibe whilst their kidlet is happily occupied. Now even though we went along as a family on a Sunday afternoon, I stuck my hand straight up at the designated "carer" and said thank you very much to a cold, crisp glass of prosecco! This my friends is one very enjoyable way to fill in a lazy Sunday afternoon.
Now Ivano is your typical Italian stallion - good looking, oozing with charm and fabulous with kids! My babe became all shy when we arrived as he realised he was the only one in the class. Ivano took control of the situation immediately and kitted him up with an apron and tea towel and off they went to wash their hands. Now if you are a helicopter parent, don't worry your child isn't taken out of your sight for one second, as the kitchen at The Italian is completely open plan. You can stand on the restaurant side of the kitchen bench and watch everything your little chef gets up to.
The class lasts about 20 minutes. The dough is already made, it just needs to be hand stretched (a job most kids will love, except for mine who found it tedious - he wanted to know where the pita breads were!!). Then next it is time for the home made tomato sauce and then the toppings. Of course number one son went for the good ol' Aussie favourite - Hawaiian, which I'm sure must make true Italians cringe! Now the ham and pineapple were very similar to what we use at home but the cheese really threw my little master chef. It was white, not luminous yellow, it was crumbly and not grated and it was a wee bit gooey to touch. That's because it was pure cow's milk mozzarella and not store bought crap!
With his masterpiece created it was time to place it in the fabulous pizza oven. With Ivanos help, the pizza paddle was slid underneath the pizza and then placed in the hot oven. My little man told me that it was 300 degrees in there and that it only took 3 minutes to cook. Ivano takes the pizza out of the oven to avoid any little mishaps and then it is placed on the bench ready for slicing. Once again Ivano helps people with little hands cut the pizza up and voila (I know that's a French and not Italian word by the way) it's time to eat the little beauty!
When the masterchef took his seat at our table, Ivano presented him with a certificate of completion and now he can say that he is a fully fledged pizzaiolo!! After eating his creation I was advised by my dear son that we shouldn't use pita bread any more because it is lame in comparison to the base that Ivano uses. Oh dear.
Now even if you aren't interested in letting your children become little masterchefs, The Italian is a great family friendly restaurant to visit for lunch or dinner. There is easy access for prams and just enough room to park it next to your table. There is both seating inside and out as well as high chairs for little bambinos to sit in. Toilets are located in the courtyard outside the restaurant and kids have their own menu. The boys indulged in some of the chocolate gelato whilst we were there as well and it went down a treat! I'm sure of an evening this place would be noisy, just like any decent Italian restaurant should be, so your boisterous kids will fit right in and dinner service starts at the very family friendly hour of 5.30pm. Prego!
There are about 20 pizzas on the menu at The Italian. Ranging in price from $19 - $25 you can have everything from the basic Ananas to the fancier Genovese (roast potato, pork sausage & pesto). The pizza that Ivano whipped us up alongside his little apprentice was good, seriously good - all pizza should be made a woodfired oven don't you think? If you love pasta then there are quite a few selections on the menu. All of the pasta is made on site and you can have everything from pappardelle with porcini mushroom, cream & truffle oil to a spinach & ricotta gnocchi with burnt butter & almonds. Apparently the Nonna of the owner of The Italian is the inspiration behind most of the dishes that are on the menu (her beautiful face is used in the logo) and as we all know, whether our Nonnas were Italian or not they were damn fine cooks.
Our experience at The Italian was totally authentic. You could forgot for a moment that you were in down town Willoughby and perhaps think that you were at some family run trattoria in the burbs of Roma - a feeling that perhaps is missing from another so called kid friendly Italian restaurant that we reviewed earlier this year (by the way Jamie I'm still waiting to hear back from you). The staff hail from Italy, their accents are still prominent and their passion for food is catching - I definitely think that those pita breads are not going to be seen again in our household x
Little Munch independently paid for this experience at The Italian!
If you want to drag you little masterchef to a class book online here.
191 High St Willoughby
Open 7 days lunch (12pm) & dinner (5.30pm)