Falling for La Tombola

A favourite holiday puzzle, sadly mislaid…

It had been an exhausting day, rearranging furniture and/or heading down to the footy to be wildly supportive of the beloved football team. By 7 p.m. sustenance we were all craving sustenance, our stomachs grumbling petulantly. Unfortunately, the fridge was bare. And where could we get a table at the last minute on a Saturday night?

An unassuming restaurant at the northern end of Unley Road, La Tombola has been delivering traditional Italian meals for years. The menu is not long, but every dish is terrific. The staff are friendly and funny, and we had a super night there recently, delighted to find such a gem barely a stone’s throw from our new city bolt hole.

La Tombola is an Italian game, similar to bingo. It is derived from an Italian verb tombolare, to somersault or tumble. The Collins dictionary suggests it is the equivalent of upsy-daisy, should a small child fall over.

Well, nobody seemed unsteady on their feet that night, although Tony and his staff were flat out when we arrived. We waited rather anxiously on the sidelines for a table – the place was seething. But let’s face it, if the tables are stuffed with happy eaters, it’s probably worth the wait. And it wasn’t that long before we were greeted like old friends, and ushered to a table by the window.

A great thing about Italian dining is that traditionally, a meal is not an event to be rushed, and La Tombola is, without a doubt, authentically Italian. In this respect at least. So we were given plenty of breathing space between courses, with time to dwell on good wine and good conversation. (No one was keen to venture back out into the cold anyway!)

We had taken a bottle of wine with us, but La Tombola is certainly not short of wine – of the red variety anyway. And most of them are locally sourced. I ordered a lovely, fruity Barossa Grenache, while the gentlemen enjoyed their Cabernet Sauvignon.

The One & Only, with his Italian name – and despite a lack of fluency in the language – instantly drew attention and became a firm favourite with the staff. We never went short of wine or food – in fact when the kitchen got a tad overwhelmed, our waitress dashed by with a basket of bread, just in case we were in danger of starving.

We started off with an antipasta platter to share, topped up with an extra plate of coppa – a salami of salted, aged pork shoulder, rolled into a short, thick cylinder, made by Tony himself. Our antipasto platter included frittata and pickled vegetables, as well as the usual array of salamis and olives.

For my main course, I chose a rich and delicious fusilli di estate: a twisted noodle tossed with veal strips, smoked bacon, onion, roasted capsicum and mushrooms in a creamy sauce and finished with basil. The gentlemen went for a spicier option: penne con pancetta picante; the pancetta mixed with Italian sausage, chilli and roasted tomatoes. Of course we shared the spoils without spilling too much sauce on the pristine linen tablecloth.

Finally, a dish of Tira Mi Sú with three spoons to finish up. Well, it seemed best to share, or we may not have had the capacity to walk home. But I am already planning my next visit. It had been terribly difficult to toss up between the Fusilli and the Ravioli Ortolani Rosati, and the One & Only is keen to try the Spaghetti Marinara…

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