A very proud Peter Piccolo apologised for his son Luke being absent from a large and excellent family-cooked meal at his farm on the outskirts of the NSW city of Griffith.
Luke runs Limone Dining, one of most successful of Griffith's many top-notch Italian eateries, and he had to be in Sydney that night to be announced as a finalist in the Appetite for Excellence award, one of Australia's major competitions for the country's young chefs, waiters and restaurateurs. Luke went onto become the winner of the young restaurateur for 2019.
However when I dined at Limone Dining (452 Banna Ave, Griffith, phone 6962 3777, visit www.limone.com.au), Luke had left the kitchen in very good hands: those of his three next-in-command chefs, Satvir Chahal, Nicholas Webb and Liam Sibillin.
The choice of entrée at Limone was simple enough. It had to be the tagliatelle with quail, chestnut and parmigiano, though I could just as easily have been persuaded to have the warm berlotti bean salad with scampi, stinging nettle and bisque.
I'd remembered Luke a couple of years previously explaining the real secret to being a great chef: imagination, hard work, and never believing that you can cook better than your grandmother does. And I'd remembered what Luke and his grandmother - or 'Nonna' - and extended family had done with pasta. It was simply sensational.
Anyway, I'd chosen well to start my Limone experience. The pasta was exquisite, as I knew it would be, and the local quail from Myee Farm sensationally tender and richly flavoured.
Mind you, the dish had to be good to better my main course of Riverina black angus, served with cime di rapa (a strongly bitter green) and persimmon, and the baked vanilla cheesecake that followed for dessert.
The two-night sojourn in Griffith was as a break from a Cruise Express (phone 1300 766 537; visit www.cruiseexpress.com.au) vintage-rail journey from Sydney-to- Melbourne and back, and featured an afternoon at the Piccolo family's farm (visit www.piccolofamilyfarm.com.au) for plenty of pasta washed down by local beer and wine.
The heady combination proved to be a highlight of the journey.
The Griffith stopover was also highlighted, after a tour of the town and an introduction to its Italian-ness, by a visit to De Bortoli Wines, where winemaker Julie Mortlock introduced tour participants to a range of the company's products.
That evening it was dinner with an old winemaking friend from nearby Leeton and a taste of some of Griffith's more conventional Italian fare at Il Corso Café (140 Basnna Ave, Griffith; phone 02 6964 4500) - an entré-sized serving of spaghetti bolognese followed by a main course of saltimbocca, combined with some fine wine made by my host at his family's Lillypilly Estate.
The latter dish's pan-seared veal medallions topped with prosciutto and cooked in a herby white-wine sauce was Griffith how I remember it - decidedly Italian and delicious.