In the underrated suburb of Paddington, Sydney, I goggle over the flooding artworks hung at Lucio’s Italian Restaurant. Wide-eyed and in awe, I am asked to take a seat which I do most reluctantly. I take my eyes painfully away from the vivid artworks and pick up a glass of an untitled mystery cocktail, (it was either a Solerno Serata or Lucio’s Blood Orange Negroni Sbagliato). As I take a sip, blood orange enriches my mouth. It dawns on me that the artworks, the cocktails, and the orange – is just the beginning. The Redbelly Blood Orange feast is upon us!
Deep crimson is in, and I’m not talking about fashion. The blood orange’s tart and raspberry flavours, vibrant colour palette, and nutritional characteristics make it the conquering citrus fruit, according to Len Mancini, Director of Redbelly Citrus Growers.
With the core ingredient of blood orange anchoring the entire feast – from the kingfish carpaccio with blood orange, fennel, verjus, watercress, olives, and blood orange dressing, to the roast duck marinated with blood orange – I am most curious about the cannoli di cioccolato: chocolate cannoli filled with blood orange mousse – I’m sorry, did I say curious? I mean deliriously excited. The crisp crack of the chocolate cannoli is melodious before we use it to scoop up a blood orange mousse as light as air. I am determined to meet the puppeteer behind this feast: Head Chef, Nicole Bampton.
Bampton sits on my right, exhausted yet composed, and unruffled in the slightest for a chat. Her most exciting role as a Head Chef at Lucio’s is creating new dishes, with the crucial element: simplicity. “Simplicity is a huge factor,” she says. “Not to try and over complicate the dishes…small amounts of ingredients so everything is very fresh”. While her go-to meal is almost anything with chili – “I can’t get enough of it!” – Bampton shares her commitment to the team at Lucio’s and the demanding role. “You have to come in for the guys in the kitchen – you got to – it’s a team effort.”
Just when you thought the chocolate cannoli was the peak of the event – brace yourself. You are taken further, into the clouds, with Solerno Blood Orange Liquor. Evonne Eadie – cheese addict, cat lover, and National Solerno Ambassador – demonstrates the process of making their own espresso martini. A concoction of Solerno, ginger sugar syrup, and one espresso shot, this drink kicks my three-thirtyitis out of the park. Wearing a striped printed dress that cleverly embodies the colours of her brand, Eadie’s dedication is unquestionable as she takes to the bar, and re-creates the espresso martini for every guest.
“If you hold them up to the light, they look like an opal. That’s my favourite.” Len sits down with me amidst the chatter at the feast and the clinking of more ice, for more Solerno cocktails. Ten years ago, during a time where the most planted product was nuts, Len shares his own analogy in achieving his success with his brother Anthony Mancini and their cousin, Vito Mancini. “Farmers move in herds, and once the herd gets there, it ruins it for everyone – it tramples everyone. So you’ve got to be the one going away from the herd. That’s our philosophy.” The last five years has and continues to bloom for Redbelly Citrus Growers, now exporting their blood oranges worldwide. Being deeply connected to the fruit and its potential, Mancini’s vision triumphs the ego of competition. “We want everyone to talk about blood oranges – that’s all. We want more people to enjoy them – I don’t care whose they buy. Every extra one they buy is good for the industry.”