It’s dark on the main floor of Rosetta Trattoria. Our table might as well be in Siberia for all the staff attention we’re getting.
There’s a lot of folk in crisp white shirts striding purposefully, but we’re having to resort to flagging them down to even get a drink. The table next to us bonds over being in a similar predicament.
We’re visiting this fancy city-dweller enclave for a high-priced bowl of pasta. In a city blessed with so much quality Italian, paying nearly thirty bucks for Tonnarelli Cacio e Pepe ($27) is kind of hard to swallow, especially when the sauce simply contains freshly cracked black pepper and cheese. It’s good pasta, and the portion is probably right for the richness, but I can’t help but think of the dude in The Rocks market who whipped me up the same dish inside a wheel of cheese. I digress...
Rosetta is part of the Neil Perry stable, a younger sibling to his Melbourne restaurant by the same name. We use the backdoor entry from Harrington Street to avoid the mess that once was George Street, and find ourselves entering onto the main floor. Housed inside the Harry Seidler-designed Grosvenor Place, both the architectural bones and the décor by Melissa Collison, summon peak 70s modernism. In here it feels like the moon landing is just about to happen.
The similarity between this space and the Sydney Opera House is startling, so do keep it in mind for a thematic pre-theatre dinner. Ribbed wood surrounds the lift and wine closet; while overhead you’ll see a branching bronze statement chandelier.
The long curve of glass is lined with coveted edge tables, each lit with a clinical - almost dental - metal and glass light. While the chairs are velvety and luxe, the table size is kept small to keep those profit margins as wide as can be.
Stuck in the middle ring of tables, we’re not able to see that much of what’s going on in head chef Richard Purdue’s long, vine-lined open kitchen, though it appears to be orderly and fast-paced.
House-baked focaccia and generous bowls of fruity green olive oil arrive before our wine. The 2018 Grosset Fiano ‘Apiana’ ($22/glass) from the Clare Valley is nicely austere with flint and lemon pith before a dry savoury finish. Salmon pink in the glass, the 2018 Domenica Nebbiolo Rose ($16/glass) has an almost Riesling-like acidity with raspberries and a dry savoury finish. It actually has more acidity than the 2018 St. Hugo Riesling ($17/glass) that I drink later.
Wine by the glass here strikes me as expensive, and that’s before I dip into the Coravin wine system for the 2016 Vie di Romans Chardonnay ($34/glass) from Friuli Isonzo, Italy, which you can source online for forty bucks. It’s served too cold to be all that exciting, but I warm to it over Scalia Anchovies ($18) when vanilla and toasted coconut start to come up. The little hairy fishes are perfectly paired with lemon and dill butter.
Calamari Fritti ($32) is an overpriced disappointment. The oil – at 8pm on a Friday night – doesn’t taste fresh. While the calamari itself, supplied by Bruce Collis from Corner Inlet, is delicate and tender, the batter is loose and thick. The dish is saved only by tart lemon butter-like mayonnaise that I feel guilty smothering over such lovely seafood.
We fare better with Spaghetti ($32) topped with red mullet and tangled with tiny orange mussels with lively chilli (asking for extra chilli oil improves our opening pasta too). I ask how my neighbours are faring with their pizza, and they reckon their local mob, Verace Pizzeria, does a better job in Macquarie Park. I reckon my local guy – Francesco Spatoro at Aperitivo – does too.
I am very happy with a side of Braised Peas ($12) though – served in a generous mound with pancetta and onion.
With most diners well versed in the price of pasta, whether you like Rosetta or not probably comes down to how much you’re prepared to cough up for classic Italiano that’s only – in places – moderately better than what you can eat in the ‘burbs.
Grosvenor Place, 118 Harrington Street, Sydney
Ph: (02) 8099 7089