Featuring cameos from the 'golden girls' and the absolute best vongole pasta in town.
You have to watch the Marco Furlan cooking show
“Not pipis – no,” says Marco Furlan of La La La Osteria on Gilles Street. “I’m talking about vongole. Vongole! The’ve got little ridges on the shell – pipis are smooth.”
For the next five minutes Marco describes the gulf that lies between a pipi and a proper vongole, and the superiority of the latter.
La La La Osteria
19 Gilles Street
(08) 8212 3535
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“See those little ridges on the shell?” Marco asks, holding a vongole in his palm, tracing the corrugations that traverse the small, sail-shaped shell with his index finger. “They are excellent for holding onto your sauce. Sometimes a plate will come back from the restaurant and some banana out there has taken the meat out, eaten all the pasta and left all the sauce on the shell.
“That’s the best bit!
“You’ve gotta suck the sauce off the shell,” says Marco pinching his thumbs with all eight fingers and tossing his hands back and forth in that most Italian of mannerisms.
CityMag is out of the fire and into the frying pan with Marco tonight as we ride shotgun inside his kitchen for a night.
The cook was sick of answering through the pass each time we dined at La La La. “It’s better if I just show you,” Marco had suggested.
Now here we are – two spare bodies in a room with sharp knives, boiling water, fire and orders up!
A Primo (first course)
“They were sitting in a little bucket a second ago thinking the tide was gonna come back in,” says Marco as he tosses the vongole in his pan. The fire’s flames are high and lick at the steel rim while the chubby shells knock together with a heavy sort of clatter that’s pleasing to hear.
“They’re used to not being surrounded by water. They’re thinking the tide is going to be coming back in, but they’re going to die in my pan.
“The last hurrah for them is marinating my linguine. My pasta is absorbing their moisture content until it gets too hot and they give up – paaahhh – and open. Vongole juice goes into my pasta,” says Marco.
“Magic,” he adds, rolling his eyes with delight in the vongole’s demise.
The sound Marco makes of the vongole’s last breath is both a morbid and absolutely delicious description of the bivalve’s death.
The dish takes Marco all of five minutes to cook. Everything is à la minute at La La La.
The time in the pan belies the immense preparation and intelligence behind the dish. Of course, don’t call Marco’s cooking intelligent – there’s no quicker way to offend the man. For this waiter-turned-cult-cook, it’s all about keeping things simple.
“We live in South Australia, not post-World-War Czechoslovakia – we’re living in abundance – it’s got to be fresh in this state. Our neighbour’s the Antarctic – we’re surrounded by pristine waters.
“It’s simple,” says Marco continuing, “when you freeze food, but especially with something like the vongole, tiny spears of ice form inside the shell and pierce their flesh and they give up their essence, they’re soulless by the time they hit your pan.
That’s the difference you taste between a good dish and something that’s really outstanding.”
Secondi (second course)
“Alright Kathy Luu, let’s go bella,” says Marco urging his accomplice in the kitchen of two-and-a-half years as new dockets begin to line up.
It’s just Marco, Kathy Luu, and Bruno Specchi in the kitchen. It’s a small team in a decent sized space, but the ‘U’ shape design of La La La’s kitchen gives Marco the shits. We can tell.
However, it’s this movement and the lack of cyclical flow that sets off a different kind of rhythm on the tiles and at the pass of La La La Osteria.
Here Marco and Kathy Luu dance and Bruno passes and pivots – everyone swings and sways between stations – over and under (around and through).
“Yeah bella, we got the golden girls over there,” says Marco, keeping the energy up and one eye always on the quickly amassing dockets.
Who are the golden girls? Do they come here often? Will Dorothy sign our notebook?
Turns out we weren’t just thinking these questions but talking out loud. Marco’s partner and host of La La La, Olga hears us as she comes to collect a suite of plates from the pass:
- Veal Girello – poached in duck stock, sliced thin and served with a smear of tuna mayonaise
- Vongole Linguine – anchovy, chilli, cut tomato, white wine, etc
- Salmon Carpaccio – wild-caught New Zealand King Salmon with a touch of salsa verde, aioli and pickled radish
“He just does that,” says Olga about the table of golden girls. “He comes up with names for everyone.”
Marco’s radar blips imperceptibly to us, even while we stand right next to him as he ferries handfulls of fresh herbs from his mise en place to his pans. He clocks another table sit down, it’s 8pm but they’re regulars.
“The boys are here,” says Olga as she brings in armfuls of empty plates. It’s just Olga and Antonia on the floor tonight and there’s plenty of heavy lifting to do.
“I know,” says Marco as he pushes the rim of his glasses back up the bridge of his nose.
“Duck stock, beef stock, vegetable stock,” says Marco, lifting each of the jugs next to his station. “Wine. Anchovy. Garlic, chilli, roasted garlic, – I chop fresh parsley for every service – fresh lemon thyme, fresh basil. I must have those or I can’t cook,” says Marco.
“Who are the boys?” we ask.
But Marco’s elsewhere now – in between the surface of his pan and its contents – cooking.
It turns out ‘the boys’ are a group of friends – all men, all engineers – who’ve been dining with Marco every week (usually on a Thursday) for 20-odd years, since he first opened Pagliaccio on Rundle Street.
“They never order,” says Olga. “Marco just feeds them. They’ll usually want him to come out and talk with them too.”
Marco is bustling around the kitchen. The cool room door bangs shut. Marco’s got an armful of ingredients to prepare a dinner party for the boys.
“One of them,” says Marco – speaking about the boys once he’s got their entrée underway – “is the dad of one of the guys who opened the hair dresser and coffee shop around here.”
“Archie and Co.?” we guess.
“That’s it,” Marco confirms.
“Paul or Adam ?” we ask referring to Archie & Co. owners Paul Engelhardt and Adam Hadley-Darrie.
“Paul!” Marco exclaims.
It’s this sort of thread that Marco is able to tug on – an encyclopaedic knowledge of how Adelaide articulates as a city of substance, of who’s doing what now, and whether or not it’s actually better than what people have done in the past – that makes Marco the quintessential Adelaide restaurateur.
It’s not the sort of information you get from the internet, but purely from time and observation.
Marco says cooking is physics. But more than matter and energy, it’s the time and space of our physical reality that he’s been able to capture here and turn into magic on your plate at La La La Osteria.
There’s nothing too fancy going out, but so many of the dishes or the ingredients will – if you have the time to stop checking your phone – leave you feeling gazumped.
It could be the duck risotto, where the duck is slow cooked for three hours. It could be the salted ricotta – not parmesan – that comes out on your hand made ravioli. Or the olives.
What’s going on with those olives we tried at the start of the service? We’re still thinking about them.
“Olive Ascolane,” says Marco. “We roast off pork scotch fillet and veal topside, with roasted onions, celery, carrots – we make a casserole essentially – mince that, and stuff the olives.
“Ascolane is a place in Italy – It’s older than Rome. No train tracks, the road runs straight through to Rome,” says Marco.
We know Marco’s mum is Italian-born and, amazed that anyone would make such a dish as an appetiser, we ask whether Marco’s mum is from Ascolane.
“Right near there, yeah,” he says with a big, bright smile. “This dish is intense, yeah – the preparation – that’s why little old ladies do it.
“My mum’s not around anymore so we have to do it,” says Marco.
This isn’t marketing. This isn’t a wannabe celebrity chef seeking to cut open the trunk of their family tree to resurrect some sort of quaint provenance to legitimise their operation.
Marco loved his mother deeply and speaks of her often, and always with the utmost respect.
Spending too much time preparing a dish his customers pop in their mouth and chew twice and swallow is not padding his bottom line or inflating his ego. This is meditation for Marco.
This simple dish keeps the cook in communion with his mum and brings her back to life – if only for a few bites in your mouth.
Marco’s never let anyone in the kitchen before like CityMag. He’s had people ask, even good customers and he’s always said no.
It’s not about winning points and pursuing relationships with reviewers to build a pyramid of legitimacy and brand equity in the market, but he likes us. We’re “real” he says, and that means a lot.
Marco’s cooking show isn’t for the masses, it’s not for Instagram or TV – it’s for you.
Marco’s cooking for the boys, and for the golden girls too.