Filling a burger-sized hole in Sydney’s breakfast scene, Bare Grill on Bourke kicked off their first brekky offering last weekend. To answer the most obvious question – yes, they’re doing a Breakfast Burger ($15.50), and yes, it’s freakin’ awesome, just like the rest of their daytime burger range.
Your standard beef patty on soft milk buns affair is turned breakfast-appropriate with bacon, egg and a hash brown, along with some grilled onions and a spiral of barbeque sauce. This burger also comes with cheese, but I fully support you getting your full calcium intake by doing the six buck melted raclette add-on.
There’s absolutely nothing obscene about oozing Swiss cheese at breakfast time, though scraping it over my fried egg did cause a yolk blowout that made breakfast into a rather sticky affair.
Now before you roll your eyes about the unhealthy burgerisation of Sydney, they do also offer an equally delicious bowl of Home Made Muesli ($15) garnished with coconut yoghurt and strawberry coulis. It’s rounded out with a jug of coconut milk, and goes down a treat with Apple or Orange Juice ($4).
There’s also a pretty plate of edible-flower garnished Smoked Salmon ($18) with sourdough, rocket, avocado and slightly watery scrambled eggs.
It wouldn’t be a proper Sydney breakfast menu without the opportunity to eat your housing deposit as an Avocado Smash ($15.50), muddled here with mint and fetta on Turkish bread, surrounded by chorizo crumbs.
Having given up the dream of home ownership long ago, my go-to dish has to be their slightly pricey Baked Eggs ($17.50) with the buttered Toast ($2.50) add-on. The baked eggs are dotted with chorizo, haloumi, olives, tomato and sour cream, though it’s the addition of spinach and the spring onion garnish that takes it somewhere fresh, light and new.
Grab a Cappuccino ($3.50) and explore any of these dishes any Friday, Saturday or Sunday before noon.
NOTE: see a previous review for this venue back HERE.
Bare Grill on Bourke
Shop 15, 417-435 Bourke Street, Surry Hills
Ph: (02) 8964 4214
At Dust Bakery, they’re very passionate about bread. Third generation baker, Cesare Salemi, is a staunch advocate for stone milled flour. He puts forward a compelling case for using it in his Dust Appreciation Class ($75/head). This two-hour bread eating and learning adventure takes you through the differences between roller milled and stone ground flour.
The difference, in a nutshell, is that stone ground flour contains the whole wheat grain – bran, germ and endosperm; while roller milled flour is tempered with moisture to soften out the endosperm, while the bran and germ separated out by sieving or sifting. You can feel and see the textural and colour differences between the resulting flours in the samples Cesare passes around the table. You can also taste the difference between Dust Bakery breads, and Australia's most popular supermarket bread - Wonder White.
Beyond the dietary fibre in bran (which mainstream breads often add back in, after sifting it out) from wheat germ you get things like magnesium, zinc, thiamin, folate, potassium, phosphorus and vitamin E. What all this adds up to is that not only is stone milled flour more flavoursome, it’s also more nutritious. On the downside, the pieces of bran interrupt the formation of a strong gluten matrix, so breads made from it don’t tend to rise as high. Also the fats in wheat germ and bran mean it spoils more quickly – so you will need to use the package you receive of Dust Bakery stone ground flour within three to six months.
Their stone ground flour is produced onsite in a handmade wooden stone mill Cesare has nicknamed Heidi. She sits next to a sifter dubbed Agatha.
In the class - or through the glass windows if you're just visiting Tramsheds - you will see them both hum into life to process a heritage wheat grain called Bok that dates back pre-1960s.
After producing their own flour, the Dust Bakery team gently mix, then slow-ferment using a mother culture that began in 1980 (for the rye breads) and 1999 (for the white breads), before baking their breads. The Bok wheat sourced in Emerald in Central Queensland, is turned into a wood fired bread called Village Loaf ($17/full, $9/half) which is Dust Bakery’s signature bread. Cesare made some claims about this bread being tolerable to gluten intolerant people, and even to some people who suffer from coeliac disease. While I’d like to see these claims supported by evidence-based research, if you're really missing good bread and willing to risk the experiment's potential side-effects, it might be worth a try.
More than just a bakery, Dust is also a restaurant, and the classes include a dinner that showcases their pride and joy: slow-fermented wood fired pizzas.
Using their in-house stone ground flour, the bases here are fermented for over thirty hours, then fired in the wood fire oven.
The nicely puffed, blackened crusts are not overloaded with toppings, starting with a simple Margherita Pizza ($18) adorned with tomato, buffalo mozzarella and scattered fresh basil leaves.
Living down the road from acclaimed pizzaiolo Francesco Spataro, who plies his craft at Aperitivo, I’ve become pretty fussy about pizza. So believe me when I say, I'm pretty impressed with the flavoursome bases here. Made with the teardrop shaped caciocavallo cheese, the Potato Rosemary Pizza ($18) is a particular standout, though it's the Mixed Funghi Pizza ($24) that'll probably drag me back.
Teaming air-dried beef and taleggio, one of my favourite full-flavoured Italian cheeses, the Bresaola and Taleggio Pizza ($22) was another favourite.
It does have an intensity that’s best balanced by salad, and the Raw Zucchini Salad ($14) teaming juicy ribbons of zucchini with their flowers, bread crumbs and shredded stracciatella di bufala cheese, proves a very suitable companion. The exciting surprise of seasonal, fresh blackberries help to keep my fork returning to the Beetroot Salad ($14) with goats’ cheese and pistachios.
Seasonality is also at play in the Fig and Prosciutto Pizza ($25), but with a whiff of autumn already in the air, I suspect you’ll have to dine quickly to catch this one.
Even the Green Salad ($9) is good, thanks to quality greens, fresh hazelnuts and great extra virgin olive oil.
Taking a class gives you a great menu overview, with the opportunity to eat more pizzas than I care to name - so you can rest assured, you won't be going home hungry.
Dust Bakery have upcoming bread appreciation classes on Tuesday 28 February, Tuesday 7 March and Monday 13 March that you can book online by going HERE.
The Tramsheds, 1 Dalgal Way, Forest Lodge
Ph: (02) 9660 4529
You enter Long Chim from a laneway called Angel Place, but you’ll actually be dining deep in bowels of a building full of bankers. It’s dark, moody, and - if your table happens to be in the long galley between bar and kitchen – enlivened by the crash of woks and the occasional cloud of chilli-related napalm. I’m dining with an all-star cast of more than a hundred chefs, brought together by Australian Pork Limited's PorkStar program. Beyond celebrating the versatility of pork, many attendees seem keen to take a gander at the dishes of David Thompson – a man touted as the father of Australia's contemporary Thai cuisine. It's understandable - you'd probably have to have hidden under a rock for the last two decades not to have heard of this chef’s achievements both onshore with Darley Street and Sailors Thai, and offshore with Nahm and the precursor Long Chims.
Thompson’s food is renowned for being hot; so I’m grateful we get a lining on our tummies with Grilled Pork ($18).
With just the right combination of char, fat and sweetness, these tender skewers of marinated pork are incredibly compelling; suiting the coriander and lime notes of Two Birds’s Taco Beer.
The fireworks start with Spicy Pork with Rice Cakes ($18), a crunchy mix of rice cakes, prawns, slivers of pork, peanuts and fresh herbs, dotted with dried whole chillies and spooned onto fresh betel leaves. The energy level at the whole table lifts with this dish. It's the kind of dish that makes you feel alive (especially if you bite into a dark red, dried chilli); and the clarity reminds me of what Thai cuisine in Sydney can be, when it's not relegated to being muddy and indistinct.
Even though some dishes - like this lime, roasted rice and grilled pork cheek salad - were definitely geared to show off the protein in question, Thompson, unlike some previous Porkstar hosts, resisted a staunchly all-pork menu.
The sour shock of Hot and Sour Seafood Soup ($35) and slippery relief of Stir Fried Glass Noodles ($32) topped with whole baked prawns, cleverly reset our palates for more intensely spicy pork.
Delivered by a quiet but efficient battalion of staff, our stir-fried minced pork with chilli and holy basil lulled me into a false sense of security with a chrysanthemum-like fried duck egg blooming on top. It’s another hot dish, even with the deep-fried protein to offset it, and I share a quiet moment of wonder with Nino Zoccali (Pendolino) marvelling at the beauty of cold slices of freshly cut cucumber, delivered by the smiling and slightly sadistic floor team.
I’m also further convinced of the place of pineapple in curry, after it provides a second window of sweet relief in a pineapple pork curry. It's oh-so-welcome in a meal that has definitely been skewed towards flaming hot.
My palate's pretty much done by the time our Stir Fried Cabbage ($18) lands, dressed with pork scratchings and crunchy dried prawns.
Even a soothing slab of coconut cream topped black sticky rice does little to change the feeling that that my body has done six rounds and the bruising will set in later. Maybe chalk this one up as one of those meals you've really got to be in the mood for - even as a chilli freak.
10 14 Martin Place, Sydney (enter Angel Place)
Ph: (02) 9223 7999
With such slick marketing, to be honest I was expecting a little more from the Foragers Market Bulli. My confusion was created by the Foragers Market brand actually representing three different markets through the same website and social media pages. Some of what Facebook had made me keen to uncover, appears to actually take place at either the Eat Street Wollongong market on a Thursday 5pm-9pm, or at the daytime Friday Forage Wollongong between 9am-3pm.
So I pulled into the Bulli Showground expecting a wide range of fresh produce, so I was surprised to find only two aisles of indoor stalls, and a spattering of outdoor ones. It seems the bulk of people are attending this market come for the hot food stalls; pulling up a pew on the grass outside to take in the live music acts while they eat breakfast or lunch.
For keen vegetable shoppers like me, there are a couple of stalls offering up produce, including well-presented vegetables from Orange, and the almost ubiquitous farmers’ market mushroom from Margin’s Mushrooms in Woy Woy.
Tucked in amongst all the hot food however were two artisan winners. The first was Paddy the Baker’s stall, selling traditional Irish breads. I’m a bit in love with their Potato Bread ($20/4), which is baked in their factory in Miranda, then retailed at markets across Sydney.
It’s delicious in a traditional Scottish breakfast with fried eggs and blood sausage, which you can pick up at the Bačka Gourmet Foods stall next door. Bačka was our score of the day, not only did we find excellent blood sausage, we took home two different salumi, including The Godfather ($18), a tasty pork chilli salami with a blend of garlic, hot paprika, and crushed chillies giving it a firey red appearance inside.
The flavours were so good, I’m going to head on out to Revesby to their factory store, where they also offer up fresh produce like cevapi, skinless sausages.
Foragers Market Bulli
Grevillea Park Road, Bulli
Ph: (0477) 109 132
"In the hills of Ancient Greece..." began Nick Kapeleris' extended dish description at a restaurant called Nostos nearly a decade ago. Even in my first year of reviewing for the City Hub, Nick pegged me as a food writer as soon as I walked through the door. Ten years on, we’re both back on Norton Street.
For me the ensuing years have seen me leave my editorial role at the Alternative Media Group and return to food blogging where my food writing journey first began. For Nick it would seem the journey has been similarly circular. He’s back at the Nostos site after leaving the restaurant in the hands of others. Seeing it failing, he took the opportunity to resuscitate the location, starting with a new name: Filεmα.
In the ensuing years there’s been a bit of a Greek influx into this part of Norton Street. Tavernaki and Georgia’s Koutouki now sit directly across the road, and between this triumvirate of Greek restaurants, they have injected a bit of life back into the once-dying strip. We ponder their menus and differences over a plate of Mezedakia & Dips ($16/small), taking the opportunity of five buck a bottle corkage to accompany our taramosalata and spicy feta dip with a chardonnay of our own choosing.
While all three restaurants offer up Greek cuisine and live music, you’ll find Greek blues at Georgia’s Koutouki; Kalamatiano songs, circle dancing and the odd bit of plate smashing spilling onto the street from the tavern-style Tavernaki; and rembetika (urban Greek songs) and entehna (orchestral music) at Filεmα every Saturday night.
At Filεmα you can also expect to find cleanly presented, simple mezze dishes like Milena ($18) – deep fried whitebait, tossed with a mix of cumin, chilli and eschallots and served with a lemon garlic dipping sauce.
Moist Keftethes ($18) take crisp leeks, carrots and herbs and make them into vegetables patties with two cheese blend of haloumi and kefalograviera. The resulting fritters are coloured up in a pan, then garnished with a pretty salad mix.
A comforting slab of Moussaka ($26) impresses with long fibres of pulled beef and a fluffy, golden béchamel crown.
We opt to share it with a red cabbage salad – Lahano Salata ($15) – that teams the crisp, leafy vegetable with plump raisins, toasted almonds, mint and fresh apple matchsticks. Devoid of the excessive richness so often encountered in restaurant meals, we leave Filεmα with a spring in our step, further buoyed by re-experiencing the consummate hospitality of Nick Kapeleris and his team.
121 Norton Street, Leichhardt
Ph: (02) 9550 0144
Building upon ground cut by Mudgee’s di Lusso Estate nearly a decade before, the team from Handpicked Wines have brought their cellar door to the city. In the elegant, Kensington Street space, smooth Scandinavian-inspired design sits comfortably over the building’s postindustrial brewery remnants.
The large room is split between wine lounge and bottle shop; separated by curved tasting bars where you can pull up a comfortable stool and embark upon a tasting adventure for between ten and twenty bucks. By dropping coin on a tasting - we did the Explorer Tasting ($20/6 wines) - the pressure is removed from you having to make a purchase to justify taking up so much of the staff member's time.
Beyond proximity, what makes the Handpicked Cellar Door more interesting than other cellar doors is that it draws in wines from their three vineyards located in key winemaking areas – the Yarra Valley, the Barossa Valley and the Mornington Peninsula. In addition they also offer a curated collection of wines from around the globe, selected from vineyards where the Handpicked Wines globetrotting winemakers also have a say in how the grapes are grown, and how the resulting wines are produced.
Their forty wines are broadly arranged into three categories – Regional, Collection and Single Vineyard. Regional wines are Handpicked Wines’ everyday drinking wines, priced between $24 and $34 a bottle. From this collection I quite enjoyed the 2016 Handpicked Regional Selections Rosé ($28.99) from the Yarra Valley. This salmon pink savoury Rosé is a long way from the candy pink sweet Rosé that seems to dominate the Australian market. It’s made on pinot noir grapes, some of which were fermented with marsanne skins, which gave this lightly floral, easy-drinking wine more savoury kick.
The Collection wines are a bit more premium, with bottle prices running between $45 and $69. These wines are selected to give more of a sense of place, so you’ll be able to taste clear differences between the same varietal selected from different wine growing regions. We explored pinot noir, pitting the 2015 Handpicked Collection Pinot Noir ($59.99) from the Mornington Peninsula against the 2012 Handpicked Collection Pinot Noir ($59.00) from the Central Otago region of New Zealand. The first wine was a likable quaffer, bright ruby in the glass, with spice and raspberry notes dominating the silky smooth palate that ends with a whirl of vanilla on the tongue, and a whiff of charred barrel on the nose. It’s made from two different pinot noir clones, which you can find in big tanks in the cellar door’s Experience Room where they do wine education classes. In direct contrast, the Central Otago pinot noir is more powerful, offering up cherries, spice and savouriness, with stronger acid. It’s the kind of wine that makes you want to sip it slowly over a platter of cheese.
At the top end of the price scale, sitting between $59 and $159, the Handpicked Single Vineyard wines are your unicorns – the best of the best. I found myself wooed by the 2014 Handpicked Highbow Hill Vineyard Marsanne ($59.99) from the Yarra Valley. I’m a fan of white Rhone-style wines, and this one is a beauty; think spiced pears, peaches and honey balanced by acid in a dry but textural white wine. We also took home the 2015 Handpicked Collection Grenache ($69.99) from the Barossa Valley. As well as the expected jam, this wine has soft tannins (the things that make wine grip your throat) and savoury characteristics that helped to make it a bit more interesting that your usual jammy Grenache.
If wine tasting isn't your thing, just sink into a lounge chair in their wine bar, where they’re serving the same wines by the glass. This also affords you the opportunity to get your teeth into some boutique cheeses and charcuterie, compiled by the experts at Formaggi Ocello.
A Small Charcuterie Board ($24) gives you three meat selections from their list of five. Wrapping it around crisp grissini, we were impressed with the moisture levels in the prosciutto di San Daniele. The two contrasting salumi - chilli and truffle - helped to refresh our palates after all the wine.
Accepting Baby Cheezus ($18/2 cheeses) into your life might be harder to stomach. How does one even begin to choose between blue, washed rind, soft and hard cheeses, and narrow it down to just two favourites? Well, if you want to avoid Cheese Dreams ($36/4 cheeses) you’ll have to find a way. Not keen on nightmares, we showed great restraint and pitted Quadrello de Bufala - an Italian washed rind buffalo milk cheese - against a hard, raw milk Challerhocker. The brine-washed Swiss cheese won battle cheese hands down. What a friend we have in cheeses!
In case I’ve made the Handpicked Cellar Door sound a bit too serious, they’ve also got a frivolous side. Not only are they doing events pairing wine with shoes or with yoga, they also offer up the opportunity to drink a DIY Prosé Cocktail ($14). Yes, it’s time for Frosé, the cocktail darling of 2016, to make way for this frothy, citrusy blend of Prosecco and lemon sorbet.
Plus, you get to decorate this one yourself using Persian fairy floss and edible flowers. There's nothing quite like boozing that also fires up your creativity and keeps your Instagram at peak envy-inducing cocktail-porn.
Handpicked Cellar Door
50 Kensington Street, Chippendale
Ph: (02) 9392 9190
While the flashier Kensington Street residents like Kensington Street Social and Automata attract most of the attention, there's something to be said for sneaking into Spice Alley for a fast, no-frills feed.
After getting liquored up at a wine tasting at Handpicked Wines, I ducked through the well-lit galley that is Koa Kitchen to enjoy an al fresco meal under the bobbing red lanterns.
While you can move between the Spice Alley eateries, assembling yourself a multinational feast, we chose to have an all-Korean meal from Koa Kitchen.
All the close-by competition means they’ve kept prices on their short, picture-based menu keen; and with the clever addition of half-size portions, even a solo diner can assemble a multi-dish meal for around twenty bucks.
Craving a fast hit of something tasty, we started with some hot and spicy Korean Fried Chicken ($11.90/large) asking them for extra chilli by way of a hyped-up gochujang application. I'm also currently a bit obsessed with Ddeokbokki ($4.90/small) – it’s a popular Korean chewy rice cake that’s served here with thin pieces of fish cake in a sticky-sweet red gochujang sauce. It’s both comforting and texturally intriguing, and goes well with the staple of all Korean meals: Kimchi ($4/large).
To make it into a more balanced meal, we added on a small side dish of Japchae ($4.50/small), a sweet potato noodle dish where the glassy-looking noodles are stir-fried in sesame oil and served warm, flavoured with soy sauce and sugar. The small bowl is topped with thinly sliced carrots, onion, spinach and mushrooms, and a sprinkling of sesame seeds.
We rounded out our meal with Korean Fried Noodle ($11.90) brought out to our table by the friendly, forage cap-wearing counter hand. Knots of fried off noodles intertwine with well-cooked marinated beef and the same blend of vegetables as our japchae. Served on a paper plate, it might not be the world’s prettiest dish, but with its spattering of dressed leaves, it’s a cheap and filling meal for one in an area where the ever-growing student population means it’s clearly appreciated.
46 Kensington Street, Chippendale
Ph: (0412) 278 966
The Surry Hills lunch trade is a fickle and highly competitive beast. You’ve only got one chance to impress; one misstep and there’s plenty of other places vying for diner attention. This goes to explain how I came to be writing about Ouroboros so late in the piece. At first I dismissed the light and airy space as relentlessly hipster – a triumph of on-trend typography and illustration over substance – after eating a meal that lacked flavour with a drink served in a jam jar.
More than a year on, craving something healthy, I give Ouroboros it a second chance. Ordering a Haloumi Burger ($18) from the specials board, purported to contain lentils, kale, quinoa and broccoli, I’m surprised to receive a particularly juicy and delicious wagyu burger adorned with a grilled piece of haloumi cheese.
Brought to my senses by this rather fortuitous order mix up, I devour the Haloumi Wagyu Burger ($19) with particular relish. Oozing sriracha mayonnaise and draped pickles, this slightly too tall burger contains a flavoursome and juicy wagyu beef patty, and a layer of grilled haloumi that’s not too salty. My only complaint is the bun dissolved into soggy pieces before I could finish the generously proportioned burger. I don't know if you could really call it wholefood healthy, but it did come (on a board - did I mention hipster?) with salad rather than chips.
Buoyed by this accidental success, I returned for Greek Pulled Lamb in a Wrap ($16). The soft flatbread is stuffed with a generous amount of well-seasoned lamb, tzatziki and iceberg lettuce. Once again, it’s a very hearty lunch, even without the accompanying side salad that's made interesting with radish slices, matchsticks of apple and orange segments.
All-day breakfast means you can tuck into Corn Fritters ($18) any time you like. Two slightly sloppy corn cakes are arranged in a stack with bacon, guacamole, two over-cooked poached eggs, and an intriguing chutney-style relish that I’m told is pineapple. The whole plate is sprinkled with nuts and seeds, helping to ensure this meal fuels your body for hours.
With a blend of chia and flax seeds, banana, granola, honey and yoghurt, the Banana Boost Smoothie ($8) is another way to put back in - if you can past the fact it arrives in a jar. You can also Make Your Own Juice ($9) say perhaps with pineapple, mint, ginger and lemon, but if the jar or the hefty price tag puts you off, an organic, Fairtrade Lemmy Lemonade ($4.50) makes a decent, bottle-born substitution.
Like the tail-eating serpent this café takes its name from, I seem to have come full circle on Ouroboros - it might not be perfect, but it's certainly earned a place in competitive Surry Hills.
118 Devonshire Street, Surry Hills
Ph: (02) 9698 3691
"Well a chicken rib is the size of a chicken rib," our waitress replies rather dryly. While my dining companion looks a bit stunned, I explain he was interested in the number of chicken ribs in a serve. She’s also unaware of the flavour of the Daiquiri of the Day ($16) – it's mango – and doesn’t know whether the margarita is frozen, but will request it comes chilled. It’s an inauspicious beginning that makes us feel like we’re pesky Sydney types who ask too many questions.
"There are five people behind the bar, and two in the kitchen, and none of them are making our drinks," my dining companion later complains, adding: “one is having a Coke, another is on the phone.” Eventually, two of our drinks arrive, but the ‘chilled’ Margarita ($16) is yet to appear.
When it does come, it's cool not frozen, but surprisingly well balanced. Our Long Island Iced Tea ($16) on the other hand, is er… uncompromising. They've whispered the word Coke to an assemblage of secondary spirits. We wash it down with a schooner of Young Henry's Newtowner ($8.50), just one of the craft beer selections from a reasonably interesting list.
Our half-dozen Bourbon Glazed Chicken Ribs and Wings ($14) are slightly too sweet, but tasty when eaten with the accompanying lemon, coleslaw and tangy ranch dressing. By this stage our waitress has warmed to us, and I forgive the shaky beginning, especially when she informs us that Jose Jones has only been open for six weeks.
The indoor-outdoor space is located at the front edge of the Thirroul Beach Motel, an older-style, two-storey red brick hotel. On the blisteringly hot day we dined, the outdoor tables are a bit on the warm side, but nearly all boast notes detailing reservations, pinned down by succulents in tin-pail plant pots with their table numbers on wooden spoons.
The restaurant’s broad menu philosophy seems to be healthy food, and the Buddha Bowl with Five Spice Chicken ($22) is a particularly good exemplar. Fresh, locally grown, organic salad greens are teamed with charred greens, sweet potato, wholemeal rice, lemon hummus and a host of grains, nuts and seeds, are accentuated with a small piece of free-range chook. It’s a beautifully presented bowl of food with so much diversity it is a pleasure to eat.
From the specials chalkboard, we also try the Black Lip Mussels ($26). The plump bivalves are treated to a leek, garlic, chardonnay and butter sauce, and are all the better for the dish's simplicity. It’s rounded out into a whole meal with some sourdough and a well-seasoned pot of seaweed salad.
Before you leave, be sure to check out the loos for some gendered bathroom surf philosophy. While my partner is treated to advice like “surf, jam and live in a van” with a side order of topless surf girls, I’m informed I should prefer flowers in my hair to diamonds around my neck. Yet somehow as I take in the poetry of José Chaves in the sunny, beachside haven of Thirroul, fresh from an ocean swim myself, it feels poignant rather than proscriptive, and I leave this place with a smile.
Thirroul Beach Motel, 222 Lawrence Hargrave Drive, Thirroul
Ph: (02) 4268 5406
“Why mess with zucchini flowers, Nonnas have been making them for hundreds of years,” cries Claudia, my Italian hairdresser, when I describe owner/chef Matteo Zamboni’s Zucchini Flowers ($22).
While capturing all the flavours of this classic Italian dish, Zamboni’s version confounds expectations by presenting a mix of sautéed zucchini, honeydew melon, puffed spelt and almond polenta under a goats' milk skin that's created using agar-agar. Aside from a few fresh flower slices up top giving you a hint, it could be a bowl of Italian breakfast cereal. Like his previous mentor – Heinz Beck (La Pergola, Italy) – Zamboni is fond of playing with expectations. For some diners that will work, for others it will not.
That’s not to say there isn’t flexibility in this restaurant. In the five months since opening they’ve retreated from being a solely four- or six-course affair, by adding an a la carte menu. I’d recommend taking on the 4-Course Degustation ($70/head) regardless, as four-course meals are pretty much the Italian way.
Throw in a snack – The Pie the Wanted to be a Pizza ($9/each) – while you contemplate the wine list. This tasty Aussie-Italian throw-down is one part party pie, the other part margherita pizza.
While predominantly Italian, the wine list does also offer spattering of Australian wines. Consider though leaving yourself in the hands of the gun floor team with either a matched wine package ($50/head) or a recommendation triangulated from your own stylistic preferences. The 2015 Ca dei Frati Lugana DOC Trebbiano di Lugana ($98) was a great choice for me: fruit-driven and delicately floral, with some bolder mineral notes, and enough acid to keep it interesting across the whole meal.
With a side bowl of dehydrated Swiss, button and porcini mushroom rubble, Mezzi Rigatoni alla ‘Boscaiola’ ($24) peels back boscaiola to its constituent parts. Topped with chestnut mushrooms, the end result scratches the same itch, while keeping the pleasure of sliding your teeth into perfectly cooked short pasta tubes, as the central feature of the dish.
There’s a bit less reimagining in the main courses. Swordfish ($31) and Lamb ‘Porchetta’ ($33) both arrive looking pretty much as you'd expect them to in any classy Italian restaurant. Where they diverge from the norm however, is in their clever incorporation of Austra-liano.
Native finger lime jazzes up the caper and parsley sauce adorning your swordfish, and, perhaps a bit less successfully because of the intensity of lamb fat, sheep replaces pig in Zamboni’s ‘porchetta’.
Under a snowy dusting of burnt butter powder, a quenelle of silky White Chocolate and Sage Gelato ($15) delicately perches on a double layer of vanilla mascarpone and scarlet-hued, rhubarb and plum gel. Capped off with crisp sage leaves, this is the ultimate reconfiguration of the burnt butter and sage sauce most commonly seen in a pasta course. It’s both imaginative and on-theme Austra-liano, by its use of locally grown Davidson plums. It's also so ridiculously delicious, my Italian hairdresser agrees she’d like to hit it up as well.
4-5/355 Crown Street, Surry Hills
Ph: (02) 8937 3599