My third Italian in 6 days and if the first two were to set some sort of benchmark then 121BC, the newest effort from the folks that brought you Vini and Berta, had a lot to live up to.
Thankfully this time I did my research and discovered that the actual entrance was located on a side alley, with the bar itself unmarked except for the vinyl lettering of cantina (cellar) and enotica (wine respositry) on the glass shop front. We loitered outside whilst the bar started slowly emptying itself of the first round of diners: leaving to make room for the 7pm sitting as the waiters methodically cleaned and reset the table.
Irata Offida Pecorino, Clara Marcelli
The four of us were here for the drink + dine offer created to celebrate the Crave food festival. We were directed to our place at the end of the 25 seater bench with an intimate view of the chef working his craft in that shoebox kitchen. Giorgio the manager/sommelier approached us to check if we were ready to start, and with an eager nod it all started to happen. First was the glass of Pecorino, made from the early ripening Pecorino grape which predates the well-known cheese, our waiter noted with a cheeky grin that it had hints of cider in the nose “if you close your eyes and use your imagination”.
Polenta fritta, pancetta, onion
To match our tipple, the polenta arrived on a wooden board, crispy bars of goodness paired with the soft aromatic onion and sprinkled with rosemary and chives. Cathy murmured that this was even better than the polenta fries we had at Bloodwood and I had to agree.
Lasagnetta cuttlefish and beetroot & Rosso 2009, Le Coste
Our glasses cleared away we were all next given a very dry red from Le Coste. Whilst a few of us decided this didn’t possess enough drinkability factor, none could disagree it was a perfect bedfollow for the Lasagnetta. Sandwiched between two thin sheets, it was studded with cuttlefish and beetroot cubes (who knew this was such a winning combination) with flecks of orange zest adding an extra zing to the overall dish.
The lone chef hard at work plating well over 225 servings that night.
Moscato di Pantelleria 2009, Pellegrino
Lastly a small pour of Moscato, wonderfully floral and densely sweet.
Rosemary custard, pears
I honestly thought the first two courses were hard to beat and didn’t think much of dessert until we were served these little glasses of rosemary custard. A sliver of poached pear, a sprinkling of salted walnuts sat atop the wonderfully creamy custard, infused with the familiar resinous aroma of the garden herb. One of us unashamedly licked her glass clean.
We hung around for a bit longer chatting before Giorgio approached us again to apologise and inform us that they had to make way for the third sitting. We thanked all the staff on our way out, surprisingly full and knowing nothing could better what we just had experienced: the four of us called it a night.
I know the holy trinity is meant to be impossible but the folks here have achieved it: with food and wine that’s good, fast and cheap there’s nothing not to love about this place except the queues. The waiters were chatty, knowledgeable and thoughtful even standing aside patiently whilst Cathy was composing a shot. Come early or very late but do come. Worth repeat visits to try the changing menu and perfect for late night eaters (opens until midnight Fridays & Saturdays).
121BC don’t normally serve desserts and the custard was such a winner I can only enthusiastically urge you to book a spot during the last week of drink + dine.
The Drink + Dine offer is available for the month of October but you must book.
3 courses + 3 wines for $40
Tuesday – Thursday for sittings at 6/7:30/9PM
121BC cantina & enotica
a. 4/50 Holt St (entrance located on Gladstone St) Surry Hills
t. 9699 1582