“Hmmm… This is not what I expected.” Barret and I were walking through an empty and mostly-closed shopping center called the Italian Forum. It was built in the heart of Little Italy, but it looked like the namesake heart had stopped beating yesterday, or maybe last month.
A few restaurants were open, but they had the ambiance of a concrete food court. Only one boutique store was open in the whole building and it was stuffed to the gills with cheap Venetian masks.
“Let’s walk back down the street in the other direction.”
We retraced our route for several blocks without finding anything that grabbed us. There were good restaurants in Leichhardt- they just weren’t Italian or Italian-enough.
During our third pass down the road our hunger kicked in and we settled for a sprawling restaurant named Giogia. It had a canopy, large parking lot, and a huge laminated menu that reminded me of strip mall restaurants in Los Angeles. I was completely unsurprised to learn it used to be an old BP station.
I realize it’s probably not fair to judge how well Giogia prepares Italian cuisine when all I have had was a gluten-free pizza, but it was called the Leichhardt Special and it was soggy. If I were Gordon Ramsey, I would have slammed my fist on top of the pizza. But I am not him, so I ate half because it would be a shame to waste perfectly half-cooked food.
“Do you remember that cute place we went to in Brooklyn?”
“Yeah,” Barret replied as his slice of pizza collapsed en route to his mouth. “That restaurant was really nice.”
“Yeah. Now that was Italian.”
We passed on their dessert and instead went across the street to a bakery called Penny Fours. It wasn’t the kind of place where people lingered behind the counter if there were no customers- they went back to help out in the kitchen. Within a minute of us arriving, a woman peered out from a glass window on the furthest wall and walked out to greet us.
The layout was a little wacky and they didn’t offer coffee, but we didn’t care. Look at how mesmerizing the chocolate hazelnut cookie is! And the homemade Rocky Road smothered with dark chocolate and pistachios! Word on the street is that the owner/pastry chef used to make bread at this famous place near Bondi Beach. At least, that’s what I overheard while savoring my heavenly mountain of marshmallows.
I also learned where all the good Italian restaurants went: Haberfield.
How to get to Penny Fours: 141 Norton St, Leichhardt, NSW 2040
How to (not) get to Giogia: 126a Norton St, Leichhardt, NSW 2040