I will kick off with the statement: La Sala is my current favourite Italian restaurant in Sydney.
Speaking of kicking, I am kicking myself for not taking some photos of the actual restaurant - I got too distracted by being able to see into the large open kitchen (thoughtfully separated to eliminate kitchen language and sounds by a transparent perspex divider).
So to describe the space... think New York warehouse industrial look in rich chocolate browns, yet there's also a curious intimacy to the space when you're dining in it. There's no door as you enter, you're drawn into the space, almost without knowing. Street level is a dark bar (mostly empty on the night we attended), then down a small flight of stairs to the dining room. The private dining room is a mezzanine at the back - it looks appealing. Down the left hand wall is the open kitchen - it's two levels, the top level has a glassed in prep kitchen... wait, here's a photo from their website! Note the clever contemporary lights - there are 'invisible' wires simply holding up the cords!
As I examined the menu in this visually appealing setting , my eyes wandered upwards to the prep kitchen where a man was diligently rolling fresh pasta – I thought, 'that bodes well doesn’t it?' My attention was then caught by the vibrant, knowledgeable hostess Marie Fournel, tempting me with a plate of air-freighted French mushrooms. She was French, fiercely nationalistic (even in an ostensibly Italian restaurant), and very engaging.
The restaurant is running a Wild Mushroom and Summer Truffle Menu for the next 5-7 weeks. Seriously, if these things excite you as much as they excite me, get off your arse and get into La Sala. When I saw it, I was so excited I forgot that I was there with a purpose. To get myself back on track, I decided to leave it to chance (or I would have only ordered from the special menu). To Marie's delight, I closed the menu and left myself in her more than capable hands .
She started us off with Suppli' del Giorno ($3.50 each) - crumbed rice croquettes of the day. In our case they were mushroom and cheese, with a sprig of fried rosemary and a wedge of lemon. They were simple, and good.
I nearly cried when I saw this dish. It was exactly what I would have ordered left to my own devices. Marie is obviously a mind reader in her spare time. It's the Wild Asparagus, Fried Organic Truffled Duck Egg and Fresh Summer Truffles ($38). Don’t fall in love with the divine wild asparagus (it's air-freighted in) – I hear it’s impossible to buy here! HOWEVER - if you find some, please (I am begging) tell me where!
By the way, summer truffles do indeed have less impressive flavour than their winter counterparts, but this dish was heavenly, simply heavenly.
Marie's mind reading skills again were employed in bringing me the BEST PASTA I HAVE EVER EATEN. This was another dish from the Wild Mushroom and Summer Truffle Menu and it is littered with my favourite ever mushroom - girolles! Let me state for the record, pasta ain't my thing. I prefer my carbohydrates in the form of bread and potatoes, but if all pasta were like this, I would be an absolute convert.
The pasta, in my case, Pappardelle with girolles, mousseron, garlic and parsley ($38) was simply divine; easily the best I have tried anywhere in Sydney – silky smooth on the tongue, perfectly cooked with just the right amount of texture to bite into, and endowed with a rich egg flavour. Yes, it's hellishly expensive, but I would go again just for this dish, and be TOTALLY satisfied. (For the record, their normal menu pappardelle is $26.)
Her next offering was Tonno ($34), or grilled yellow fin Tuna served on Sicilian caponata. This was not on my wish list, and probably the dish I liked the least. However, it was actually also quite nice (yes, it was a high hitting meal this one).
This dish is called the 'tagliata di manzo ($68.00) and as you can see, it came with some of their special accompaniments. It was wagyu, and actually represents the best wagyu dish I have tried in a restaurant to date - basically because of how well he cooked it. Wagyu is fatty, and he managed to caramelize the fat, which made it taste great. Most other places have chosen to serve it much more lightly cooked, and I haven't liked it anywhere nearly as much. This could be down to personal preference (I like caramelised fat).
The Tiramisu ($15) is also a revelation – perfectly balanced and complemented by sharp stewed rhubarb. Again, this is not a dish I usually like (there are too many bad representations of Tiramisu out there, where the Strega (a bitter liqueur whose name translates to "witch" dominates.) However, this was an amazing representation of the dessert, that we ate happily, even stuffed to the gills.
This restaurant is all about seasonality and fresh produce – there were even fennel bulbs, herbs and pumpkin in various places around the restaurant. Yes, it’s expensive (Total Bill: $321.00), but Ruben Martinez really excels in the kitchen with Italianate dishes and a welcome slurp of French influence (and I don't just mean Marie who incidentally has been there since day one)!
Ground Floor, 23 Foster Street, Surry Hills
Ph: (02) 9281 9034