Walsh bay is a slick glass & sandstone version of residential Sydney: a patchwork of locals, tourists, apartments, commercial studios, old heritage buildings and wharves – all existing under an inescapable view of the Harbour Bridge. Once the clock hand ticks over to pre-theatre hour though, it morphs mid kick Matrix style into an every-woman-and-man-for-themselve frenzy as each group tries to play a suburban-sized game of musical chairs to get a table and down their food competition-style, before the prosaic 8:30 call of the loudspeakers draw the punters to their flip seats.
Cafe Sopra, the prodigy nestled within the Italian produce laden Fratelli Fresh’s walls is a clear local favourite and the first to fill up. Although dinner service starts at 6, try not to arrive a heart beat past 5:59 or else you’re likely to be the head of a long queue waiting for a table at this one Hat chain.
Italian Sour $12.50
We arrive in time to get one of the few remaining tables and it takes a moment to flag down a waitress zooming past. We start with a couple of classic apéritifs and then quickly over-order off their giant blackboard menu.
Chicken Liver Paté with cucumber, green bean and toasted Ciabatta $20
+ Campari & Blood orange $9.50
First is the chicken liver pate, a blushing pink served with a refreshing mound of onions, beans and cornichons. I’ve never had such a bright pate and Cathy informs us it’s a sign of freshness since pate browns as it oxidizes.
White Anchovy Panzanella $20
The simplicity of the Florentine salad go down well with the soft hits of anchovy, my only wish was for more pane in the panzanella.
Mussel Fusilli Insalata with eschallot, avocado, cucumber & tomato $20
Normally ‘special’ dishes denotes something imaginative or super fresh and punchy so I was drawn to the prospect of the quirky combo of mussels and avocado. Unfortunately the insalata was a wallflower: a few shreds of this and that tumble through a large mound of pasta that seemed to disappear within itself.
Meatballs with fresh tomato sauce and Tagliattelle $22
I’ve read about grown men crying at Sopra when they realise the meatballs have sold out, so it was best we secured a plate for ourselves and see what a heart-breaker three balls of meat could be. The meatballs were huge, topped off with a small grating of Parmesan; as we cut into each one I was in love with the fluffy texture bathed in a slight tartness from the fresh tomato sauce.
Whole baked Trout with Mint and Marjoram
As good as the meatballs were, the trout was the queen of the night. The rosy meat slid off the bones easily and each bite was a comforting mouthful of soft flesh, lemon, mint and marjoram.
Since over-ordering and ambitious eating has been our forte we decided to be consistent through the last legs of the meal; we couldn’t decide which dessert to have so egged on by the waitress, we just ordered both.
Chocolate Cannoli with honeycomb and fresh Mango $14.50
Two fingers of cannoli arrived with honeycomb filling and a tussle of mango cubes. It was a pleasant combination of flavours but we were disappointed the filling was only pipped halfway through and the cannoli having lost a little of its crispness by the time it arrived on our table.
Bluberry swirl Semifreddo with Minted sugar $14.50
Last to arrive was my semifreddo. My first and only was a smooth block of almond cream sandwiched between two wafers in Verona so this was something I wanted to relive again! The blueberries and mint here worked off each other’s sweetness but I found the water content in the blueberry swirl meant the texture became icy and a little grainy.
Exuding all the rustic, seasonal charm ladies decked in big earrings, felt scarves and resin bangles love: everything at Sopra is about classic Italian done with fresh local produce. It’s been an effective business plan and if their SMH Hat and latest opening on Bridge street is any indication, one which can’t keep up with ravenous demand. I’ve been to the Walsh Bay eatery twice (and failed to gain entry twice) and would say each meal has its hits and misses although I’m unsure if this is a sign of bad ordering or perhaps a personal inability to appreciate certain flavours. Regardless, the well-oiled machine has been pumping out winners close to a decade and I’m sure you’ll be able to find another gem between the aisles.
Cafe Sopra at Fratelli Fresh Walsh Bay
a. Shop 8, 16 Hickson Road Dawes Point
t. 8243 2700