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First Look: DOP

Emma Macdonald

DOP is short for Denominazione di Origine Protetta – literally “Protected Designation of Origin”.

It means something is a quality and authentic Italian product.

Joseph Cataldo’s new eatery on Ainslie Avenue (between the Canberra Centre and the Canberra Theatre) is DOP in all senses of the word.

Having built a loyal – maybe even obsessive – following of local city workers who never minded queuing for his coffee at Bean in the City, Joseph has replaced the tiny window and countertop on the street with an intimate new restaurant promising a few surprises.

For one thing, Joseph is working with the ACT Government to gain approval for the ACT’s first road service zone.

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Joseph and Portia

That is, he plans to take over one of the car parks on the loop road behind the Canberra Centre and in the greatest Italian tradition, diners will be seated in a small patch of bitumen outside the café.

This is not the first planning challenge for Joseph, who managed in 2012 to open the first laneway restaurant in Odgers lane within the Melbourne Building with his breakthrough venture Loading Zone.

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He sold the thriving business in 2015 but said he missed the food side of things and started formulating an expansion plan for Bean in the City shortly after.

When the Australian Taxation Office moved out of the building, space became available for his vision – a small coffee bar opening onto the street with a tiny restaurant hidden behind it – was able to proceed.

And in two major life events, DOP opened on August 21, just a week before the arrival of Joseph’s second daughter Portia.

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DOP is so authentic you could have landed in Florence somewhere between buying underwear in David Jones and trying to catch a show at the Theatre. A monochromatic feel to the small space is punctuated by three bars, a banquet, and a neon Ciao! sign illuminating the darkest of dark blue Pantone walls.

A glass cabinet displays an impressive selection of imported salumi and the rest of the space is taken up with a glass display offering the day’s specials.

And this is where things get exciting.

Joseph comes from a line of passionate Italians. While one branch of the family has forged a hairdressing empire through their Cataldo’s Salons, Joseph has followed in his Nonna Ida’s footsteps and devoted his life to food.

He is obsessive about baking – his Portuguese tarts, while not Italian, are legendary. Similarly, DOP’s sfogliatelle are habit-forming after the first bite.

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Each day from 5am, his tiny team, headed by chef Lachlan Cutting, is up creating piadina – a kind of flatbread that holds ingredients such as pancetta with rosemary and garlic potato, fresh ricotta and rocket, or mushrooms with balsamic onion, spinach and provolone.

This will satisfy office workers on the run. For those who want to avail themselves of one of the 30 seats, DOP will also offer a seasonal salad and a pasta using Nonna’s recipes.

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The gnocchi and pesto served to HerCanberra was a perfect balance of basil and garlic – each piece of ricotta gnocchi a firm but light pillow. Oh to be able to do something so simple as to produce perfect gnocchi!

Joseph admits it took years to prise the recipes and skills out of his beloved Nonna.

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“She is a little cheeky. And she would show us what to do when we were younger but leave a crucial ingredient out so we could never replicate exactly how good she would make it.”

Since then, he has held fast to the greatest of Italian cooking lessons – simple combinations using seasonal ingredients, and the perfect amount of seasoning.

The good news is that DOP will shortly be opening at night to take in the pre-theatre crowd wanting a quick but delicious bite before a show.

And gelato is also on its way.

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Combined with a liquor licence which Joseph will use to serve Italian prosecco, beers, Aperol and a selection of wines means that in the summer months, DOP promises to be the one of the coolest place to grab a meal and linger over an espresso.

And if the food doesn’t immediately transport you to Italy, the sight of the dark blue 1950’s three-wheeler Piaggio ape will. Joseph plans to transport his Italian fare around Civic when people place an order. Eccellente!

the essentials 

What: DOP
Where: 28-36 Ainslie Place, City
When: 6.30am-3pm Monday-Friday
More info: facebook.com/keepitdop

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Emma Macdonald

Emma Macdonald has been writing about Canberra and its people for more than 20 years, winning numerous awards for her journalism – including a Walkley or two – along the way. Canberra born and bred, she’s fiercely loyal to the city, tribally inner-north, and relieved the rest of the country is finally recognising Canberra’s cool and creative credentials.

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