It’s hard to miss Balboa as you drive through Palm Beach. Its red brick two-storey building, once a quite unremarkable office block, now forms an imposing picture; even more so at night when the interior emanates a warm glow and the tables spill over with food, drinks and good times.
The latest venture of Avvia owners Ehud (Eddie) and Cherie Uzan, Balboa is a classy venue, bringing Palm Beach dining up a notch. Oozing Italian sophistication, its design flair would look far more at home in Seminyak than in this once sleepy suburb.
Much like a huge Italian mansion, as we enter Balboa, our vista opens up to a vaulted ceiling studded with exposed beams and a chandelier, a stairway taking us to the mezzanine level overlooking the huge bar. This is ‘rustic Italian’, a 120-seat restaurant where an extended family gathers and celebrates, the venue tells us. We may be missing the peeling paint of an Italian villa, the vineyards and rolling hills of Venezia beyond, but the historic photographs and realia, the period armchairs and the Vespa perched among the rafters evoke a sense of time and place that transports us away in wonder.
In a menu striving for authenticity, emphasis is placed on sourcing the finest local and international ingredients, authentic cooking methods – wood-fired pizza is made to order in the Napoli-sourced oven by well-known pizzaiolo Matteo Stassi (ex-Bread & Butter, Kirra), pasta is handmade daily, and dishes are named in Italian with English explanations.
Choose antipasti to start, such as Fiori di zucca ripieni (Zucchini flowers with ricotta, anchovies and eggplant), Roasted octopus, the retro Vitello tonnato, or the Affettati Misti (Italian and Australian salami hanging on a stand, accompanied by burrata, olives, pickled vegetables and caponata).
Then move on to pizza (also available in gluten-free), primi (pasta), gnocchi and risotto or a choice of three mains (secondi) with sides. The dishes are simple Italian classics, well done and packed with flavour.
We choose the Pizza Bianchi, a ‘white’ pizza topped with caramelized onions, slivered potato, fior di latte, pancetta and truffle oil, and the rich Chestnut gnocchi served with black truffle, sage and grana Padano, its richness balanced by the tangy Sugarleaf salad with chilli, radish peas, and lemon vinaigrette – plenty for a summer lunch. Too late, he spies the Linguini di gamberi – prawns, tossed through pasta with garlic, chilli, leek and shallots. Next time!
We’re seated on the mezzanine level with views down across the restaurant and out to the ocean. Behind us is a lounge area, where we’d envisage an intimate tête-à-tête over cocktails at sunset…that is if you could get peace and quiet!
Balboa’s been notoriously busy since opening. No chance of a spontaneous meet up or walk-in dining! Plan ahead, though, and you can request a table of your choice, or even the moody 14-seat private dining area where you can party at will.
Quietly sipping an Amaretto Sour, I ponder the world-spanning cocktail list (think Caprioska through to Smoked old-fashioned), the 45-choice strong international wine list, and how far Palm Beach has come in the past year…
1069 Gold Coast Highway, Palm Beach Ph: 07 5659 2282
Hours: Wed – Mon 6pm to late; Closed on Tuesday