Two Chaps in Marrickville is one of my favourite places for dinner right now. You’re given such an insanely generous amount of food that you wonder if the waiter might secretly be your grandmother – you know, the kind that sees empty plates as their arch-enemy. The set menu here is rustic, Italian and such fine quality that it feels like you got an upgrade without asking. Yet the bill is far from a shocker – your table ends up wonderfully besieged with snacks, antipasti, cheese, focaccia, pasta, salad and dessert, all for $50. The serves are so healthy that you’ll surely end up getting leftovers to take away, like we did – this inevitability was also repeated by the diners sitting next to us.
Having an overdose of this brilliant food is no shortcoming at all, of course. In fact, the generosity can feel a little too good to be true, like having unregulated and endless access to all your favourite things.
And Two Chaps manages a miracle in that it strongly rehabilitates the 90s-damaged rep of focaccia. A sample slice you’ll get might be rosemary and garlic, or the excellent caramelised onion, caper and ricotta flavour.
And the pasta – all made in-house with mainly organic Australian flour – is worth singling out, too. The first dinner I had at Two Chaps, I ordered a Maltagliati with King Brown Mushrooms that was flat-out brilliant – and I loved it so much, I couldn’t stray from it on my following visit. And even though I semi-mocked Will for ordering the Risotto (usually, the snoozer on a menu), I had to admit that it was pretty great – asparagus, garlic and a crunchy landmass of pangrattato kept it from being the cliche of stodgy blandness that a plate of long-simmered rice-and-stock often becomes. And my friend Tom was so into his Gnocchetti Sardi, he was basically having an open affair with it.
By the end of our meal, we were all basically tranquilised by great food.
Incidentally – and I’ve buried this information right here, because it reflects how unshowy Two Chaps is about this detail – all the food just happens to be vegetarian. And I was the only non-meat-eater at the table. But everyone was equally knocked out by how good the menu was. We all loved it! Regardless of how you feel about any sort of diet – the short-hand way of winning the argument is just to make it delicious. And Two Chaps does that resoundingly at dinner time. (I still think of the cracking Strawberry Peppermint Ice Cream Sandwich I had on another visit. And I want to go back to try the Raviolo with Smoked Cauliflower, Buffalo Ricotta, Sage Burnt Butter and Hazelnut.)
It’s also refreshing to go somewhere where the ‘V’ on the menu actually stands for vegan, because everything is already default vego.
By the way, it’s probably no surprise that the food is so brilliant – the head chef here is Kim Douglas, who has worked at the hatted Rockpool, as well as Henrietta Supper Club and Bread and Circus. She’s also quite a meat head, I discovered while chatting to Two Chaps owner Piero Pignatti Morano one day. He says the majority of their customers are not vegetarians at all – so the fact they are won over by the menu says a lot about the calibre of the food. (As for why the establishment has a plant-based menu, Piero told me it was for ethical and economical reasons. When you see a meat dish at a certain price point, you have to wonder whether it’s come from a good place. Also, while the dinner menu seems like such a bargain to me, it’s obvious that you can charge a reasonable price for that monumental amount of food because it is all vegetarian. Vegies are, obviously, always more affordable than meat.)
During the day, Two Chaps is a cafe that has a menu that’s similarly ace, too. It’s the sort of place where you can order Blueberry Sourdough Crumpets for breakfast (and they’ll come with a back-up squad of mango, blueberry butter, lemon syrup, sour cream and toasted coconut) or get a toasted cheese-and-slaw baguette and ask for the brilliant hash browns on the side (those flattened pom-poms of cloudy-and-crisp carbs are hard to turn down). The grilled beans on bruschetta also make me want to use all sorts of approving emojis.
Maybe you’ll wear out your fave smartphone icons while checking out Two Chaps as well.