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For years Pompei’s was considered the place to grab an authentic gelati in Sydney. Whilst a plethora of new guns have popped up in Bondi: notably an on-rush of speakeasys, beach-side bars and a new Miss Chu canteen, Pompei’s is still as busy as ever.


Spritz: Aperol, prosecco and soda $11

We’ve made a booking and arrived at this North Italian restaurant to be ushered to our table. It’s a cramped spot even for three girls and we awkwardly mid-sit side-step into the cranny (lots of table and chair shuffling were required) and mini-hop our chairs right up to the table edge. Our contortion activity for the day now over, we turn to the menu: a traditional mix of pizzas, pastas and vegetables with a curt page of veal and beef for the hard core carnivores.


Schiacciata Rustica: homade rustic bread with garlic and fresh herbs $7.50 + Flat white $4

We go for the Schiacciata Rustica, a light disc of warm bread studded with herbs and garlic. It’s pleasing but a little under-seasoned. The ravioli is delectable, large crescents of spinach and cheese sliding through a rich butter sauce. We were given a choice of tomato or butter but the waitress tells us the butter is easily her favourite so we go with her recommendation and offset it with an order of steamed organic vegetables which turned out to be rather pedestrian.


Ravioli di Magro alla Tirolese: handmade ravioli filled with baby spinach, parmigiano, ricotta and nutmeg in butter sauce (tomato sauce alternative available) $17.50

Lastly was the smoked proscuitto and mushroom pizza on a airy crisp base: a classic combination has been given an element of uniqueness with the use of smoked proscuitto and earthy sauteed porcini.


Verdure Biologiche: steamed organic vegetables, extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper $12.90
Speck e funghi trifolati: smoked proscuito scented with juniper berries and herbs, mixed sauteed mushrooms including porcini, fior di latte mozzarella, tomato sauce $24

Although we’ve been looking forward to digging into the gelati, we’re stuffed and already running late for a gig. We promise to return afterwards but as the gelati window closes at 11, we managed to miss this too.

As stalwarts go, Pompei will easily be around for us next year or next decade, so there’s no hurry for when we return for that promised scoop.

The Verdict
I didn’t realise until writing up this post that Pompei’s was meant to be a North Italian restaurant, and in reflection I didn’t spot a heavy featuring of meat, polenta or ravioli in the menu. Perhaps it’s a little at odds to be serving such hearty fare to a tanned beach-going, health conscious clientele. Regardless, at the end of the day Pompei’s serves simple Italian food done well. There’s not much more to enduring success then that.

Pompei’s 
a. 126-130 Roscoe Street, Bondi Beach
t. 9365 1233
w. www.pompeis.com.au

Pompei's on Urbanspoon

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I love big circus tents. Maybe this fondness stems from an early love of playing “parachutes” during primary school: pulling the swath of fabric up and letting go before screaming and running underneath the silky dredges, hoping to emerge on the other-side before it nets you, flapping about on the lawn.


Whilst there’s no risk of the decorative fabric ceiling of Xanthi collapsing on our heads anytime soon,the sumptuous golden waves and red Ottoman carpet interior manages to exude a warmth and intimacy in stark contrast to the steel and glass behemoth where the restaurant resides.

Xanthi is named after a city from Thrace in northern Greece, which has seen its fair share of struggle in the past: conquered by the Ottomans and overtaken by the Bulgarians, their cuisine has absorbed various foreign influences over time. And although Greek cuisine feels under-represented in Sydney’s fine dining arena, perhaps we’re finally seeing a resurgence of the Mediterranean fare in modern form.


Complimentary sourdough: served with olive oil and sea salt

We arrive fairly hungry and greedily eye the share dishes, mains and the spit with lip-biting indecision. The Potato Princess has been here before and recommended the fried school prawns.


Fried School Prawns: tossed in a honey, fish sauce, sesame seed & flaked almond dressing $10

School prawns are my favourite, the natural sweetness of the young prawns and delicious golden crunch are enhanced by a thoughtful drizzle of honey and scattering of almond flakes. I’d happily have a dish of these with a cold beer every day!


Pork Belly Baklava: Sliced pork belly with a date and pistachio filling served with a date & mastic sauce and crackling $21

I’ve had Pork Belly Baklava on my mind since seeing Helen’s post last year. Whilst it’s not as large and multi-layered as I envisioned the fatty shredded pork meat and layers of crackling disappear in a heart beat.


Fried Veal Sweetbreads


Gigantes: Braised spiced tomato and onion butter beans with crumbled fetta $8

I always have a culinary soft spot for sweetbreads and these do not disappoint: crumbed and deliciously creamy they’re served up on a bed of yoghurt and lettuce. We also order the gigantes to offset the amount of meat we’re devouring. The braised butter beans are lovely and soft, a comforting mouthful of tomato, spice and the sharp savoury punch of toasted fetta.


From the Spit: 250g Lamb $38

The hero of our meal arrives just as it dawns on us we’ve unfailingly over-ordered once again. Our dish of lamb from the spit takes me back to my first tasting of Tsirekas’ 6 hour roast lamb from last year’s Crave Food Festival. The flesh is tender but still firm, hiding under a large crisp tile of herb rubbed crackling.


Olive Oil ice cream: Scoops of Elea Creta Extra Virgin Olive Oil infused, pistachio & dried fig ice cream $9

The desserts offered range from simplicity to the refined. The olive oil ice cream arrives rather spartan: three scoops in a bowl with a swift dusting of icing sugar; the oil gives the ice cream an almost floral essence and added smoothness, oft interrupted by nuggets of pistachio and fig. Although I found this rather intriguing not everyone at the table was convinced.


Mango and passionfruit Bougatsa: Semolina milk custard wrapped in hand rolled filo pastry, served with Mastiha ice cream $15

On our way in we spotted a young chef working away at the filo dough and were keen to give the hand made rendition a try. The bougatsa is the house specialty: smooth, thick custard encased within perfectly thin filo offers a comforting shatter as we dig our spoons in. I felt the sauce itself was too gaudy for something so rustic but the others were enjoying their sugar hit.


David Tsirekas in action

The bill arrived and we hesitated for a moment, dreading coughing up a small fortune for the feast we’ve ordered. Surprisingly the sum was a pittance, the food itself barely edging past $20 each! The sweetest ending of all.

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The Verdict
A well considered offering nestled amongst a few food favourites and food royalty. They menu is varied and offers more than just the Greek cliches with small share dishes, mains and meat from the spit to cater for an after work snack, express lunch or a long meal with friends. For a severely underpresented cuisine there’s a lot to discover in David Tsirekas’ menu or if nothing else, come for the Ouzo trolly or a thoroughly Grecian grape tipple. Opa!

Xanthi
a. Level 6, Westfield Pitt Street, Sydney CBD 2000
t. 9232 8538
e. manager(at)xanthi.com.au
w. www.xanthi.com.au

I remember the first time I spotted Caffé Sicilia and it’s not what you think.

I was flicking through a fashion editorial when I spotted the models leaning against the most beautiful black and white marbled bar, laden with fruit and rows of gold rim glasses whilst a couple of wisened chefs bustled in the background. It seemed intoxicatingly Italian with all the classic European stylings you’d expect: gold window lettering, black and white tiles, crisp white linen, marbled table tops, pressed steel ceilings, hanging lights and wooden wall paneling.


Complimentary marinated olives

Even in real life I’m entirely enamored with the fit out and as we sit down in the alfreso area and nibble on the complimentary olives, my eyes kept darting between the locals power walking past and the bakery station & bar area within.

Complimentary bread rolls + Warm 3 milks cheese: warm parcel of “3 milks” cheese dressed with truffle honey & walnuts (Normally $22)

A basket of round dinner rolls appeared, tucked snugly within the folds of a napkin; they were baked on site and surprisingly delightful, a nice change from the sourdough infatuation Sydney restaurants seem to have. The cheese parcel turned out to be one large wheel and whilst it was quite moreish, we struggled to finish.

Crudo of Tuna: yellow fin tuna dressed with lemon segments, Sicilian caper berries
& extra virgin olive oil (Normally $15)

‘Crudo’ is a simple Italian dish of raw fish, oil, salt and citrus, inspired by the fresh seafood caught from the Mediterranean.

Homemade Gnocchi Bug Meat:cooked with fresh Balmain bug meat, cherry tomato &
balanced with a hint of chilli & garlic (Normally $15)

Cathy’s entrée was light and simple so it was with great surprise when I was presented with mine. I had been looking forward to trying the new gnocchi and bug meat dish; I had envisaged it to be quite small and light so I was shocked when presented with a plated mound of red, white and green (how apt). This turned out to be my favourite dish of the night: the bite sized portions of Balmain bug and tumble of pillowy soft gnocchi stirred through with tomato and chilli was comfort on a plate and an entirely satisfying meal in itself.

Sweet & Sour Sicilian Rabbit slow cooked farmed rabbit poached with pine nuts and sultanas in a white wine & vinaigrette sauce (Normally $24)

Whilst the prospect of rabbit was intriguing I found this rustic dish to be too Wintry an affair for Summer dining.

Snapper “Acqua Pazza” with mussels, vongole & king prawns poached in a white wine, cherry tomato & parsley reduction (Normally $27)

Reverse meal size envy struck again when this time I was presented with my Snapper “Acqua Pazza”. The classic dish of fish in broth was presented on a mammoth platter with a generous wreath of shellfish surrounding the Snapper fillet.

Curiously, the menu at Caffe Sicilia stops at second course and despite being full I was lamenting not being able to finish off our meal on a sweet note. I needn’t have worried though, as we were soon presented with two small glasses of strawberry and pistachio Sicilian granita.


Complimentary Sicilian granita + Complimentary take away pastries

The texture of these little gems were more akin to gelati which was probably tailored to suite Sydney-siders’ tastes since Sicilians – the original inventors of granita – would protest that the ice should be much coarser though no one on our table was complaining (too busy scraping the glasses clean).

I saw a few tables gifted small parcels as they left and when we received ours we tore open a corner to peek inside and find two house made pastries awaiting to be devoured the next morning.

As I surely felt my stomach starting to high-five the bottom of my lung our waiter approached once again, this time with a cannoli and a moment later returned with a cheeky smile and an additional surprise: a bottle of home-made orange limoncello.


Ricotta Cannoli

Perhaps rather ironically I underestimated the generosity of the Sicilians and was quite surprised at how liberal the servings turned out to be. In truth I was a little saddened that all the waiters had lost their beautifully tailored white dinner jackets in favour of a more relaxed look, but luckily none had lost that cheeky Italian humour.

The Verdict
CafféSicilia prevails in many ways to become a little slice of the old world planted anew on Crown street. The menu features a lot of traditional dishes as well as classic Sicilian fare, although the kitchen may still be trying to find its Sydney connection. The pastry station here produces some fantastic baked treats so if you’ve ever rushed past, take a moment to sit down for an espresso and ricotta baked doughnut or do as the Sicilians do and have an almond granita to go with your morning brioche.

Food in hand dined as a guest of Caffe Sicilia.

Caffé Sicilia
a. 628 Crown Street Surry Hills
t. 9699 8787
e. info@caffesicilia.com.au
w. http://www.caffesicilia.com.au

Caffe Sicilia on Urbanspoon

“Two men walked into a bar…”

Normally this would descend into a terrible punchline but in this instance the result is a quirky space atop the Flinders Hotel serving a young experimental menu. Billed as “British colonial style joins an all star food crew”, the all stars here are head chefs Thomas Lim (ex-Tetsuya’s) and Mitch Orr (ex-Sepia and 2010 Young Chef Of The Year) who’ve set up a moody and compact dining room peppered with low hanging lanterns, floral upholstery and dark lacquered tables.

This is my second time here for the Duke Tuesday Tasting menu and I’ve managed to sucker in more soon-to-be converts. The boys have been offering a 6 course degustation for only $60, with dishes often changing weekly, providing the kitchen with an opportunity to experiment with new flavours and techniques.


Snacks: Gougère

We start off with a plethora of snacks. First up are the Gougère; the delicious little puffs of warm cheese and buttery choux pastry disappearing so quickly it takes me a moment to register that they’re all gone.


Snacks: Oyster Mushroom Karage

Next, a long slate of fanned out crispy oyster mushroom karage line up next to a speckled pebble of sauce. We debate what the sauce is, however I believe it has black beans blended into it, to give it a salty albiet nutty aftertaste.


Bread and butter


Snacks: Home made maple cured ham and smoked pastrami + Pimms Carafe: Pimms Cointreau, Plymouth, Sprite, Dry Ginger $35 + Rickey Tickey: Absolut, Peach Liquer, Peach, Watermelon, Lime, Soda $17

Hold up! The snacks still haven’t ended; a bowl of home made bread rolls soon arrive with a hard round of hand churned butter and although carbs is probably one of my favourite food groups it’s exponentially improved with a generous serving of shaved home-cured meats.


The Earl: Silver Tequila, Cointreau, Earl Grey Tea, Guava, Lemon $19

It’s at this moment, table about to topple over from the burgeoning weight of Parisian slates that we receive our cocktails. Cathy’s Rickey Tickey turned out to be a light-hearted tumble of flavours whilst my ‘The Earl’ was a more singular affair with tequila and Earl Grey proving natural companions.

The waitress reappeared to surprise us with an extra snack from the kitchen (this is sadly not due to my awesomeness and more so to do with one of our party being a professional chef) in the form of a crispy pork jowel bun.


With compliments from the kitchen: Butter bread, pork jowl, grilled pineapple, curry mayo, snow pea sprouts

These bite sized little sandwiches were a sunny mouthful of mayo, pineapple, butter and the unmistakable firmness of the marinated pork jowel. I was sincerely glad to discover these have made it onto the permanent menu in the form of a DIY ‘pancake party’.


1st Course – Corn: Corn husk salt, chickweed, grilled baby corn, corn stock, corn puree, corn kernels

Corn. Yes that’s what it said on the menu, the one word description gave nothing away and it was quite delightful to spoon through the bowl, musing over the different textures and forms.


2nd Course – Pearl Onion, Leek and Chicken Skin with jalepenos oil and onion pickle liquor


3rd Course – Mushroom Risotto with rice starch, pine ash, powdered black fungi, toasted rice

The onion and chicken skin proved an interesting play on texture albeit overly salty whilst the mushroom risotto was a hit. A risotto made without rice might seem quite existential but the boys have used rice starch to thicken up the sauce and hold the dish together, letting the beautiful fresh flavours of mushroom take the spotlight.


4th Course – Egg, Lapchong, Red Rice: pickled pea sprouts, crispy lap chong, slow-cooked egg

Michelle’s done her research and lights up when we’re finally served the slow-cooked egg. It’s so soft it seems to exist in a permanent state of near-splitting over the bed of lap chong and red rice.


5th Course – Smoked Beef, Gherkin, Mushroom: hickory-smoked beef blade, button mushroom puree, gherkin, sourdough crumble + With compliments from the kitchen: green beans with garlic and butter

Lastly was the crowd pleaser, a trio of beautifully smoked slices of beef served with a dousing of crunchy sourdough crumble which provided a comforting end.


Pre-dessert – Watermelon, White Chocolate, Pink Peppercorn: watermelon granita, watermelon molasses, shaved white chocolate, pink peppercorn praline

To clean our palettes a refreshing bowl of granita, the layer of molasses tastes quite woody and not heeding Fiona’s advice I ambitiously mix all the elements together before realising that the three elements don’t go together quite so well.


With compliments from the kitchen – Milk milk milk: Milk panna cotta, dulce de leche caramel, meringue, burnt milk crumble

We’re sprung another surprise, an extra dessert exploring the different textural incarnations of milk as the seven of us murmured and scraped the last smears of dulce de leche off the plate.

6th Course – Pinenut, Burnt Choc, Blueberry: liquid lemon yoghurt cake, lemon yoghurt cake, burnt chocolate, pine nut praline, blueberry, chocolate puree

The last course is an elegant little garden, with the burnt chocolate created in reminiscence of the scrapings from the edge of a cake tin. One of our party leaned back and with a wide grin declared this dish a perfect ending to his meal.


With compliments from the kitchen: Doughnuts and banana cream puree with strawberry & liquorice salt

But wait there’s more, urging ourselves to digest with greater haste, we make room for this final mouthful of the softest-doughnut-ever. It turns out that these golden orbs were pipped choux pastry, fried and filled with the fragrant banana cream. This was my perfect end to a playful meal full of surprises, youthful exuberance and yes, quirk. Our group waves goodbye to Thomas Lim and Michael Eggert as we happily stomp down the creaky stairs, sure of ourselves that we had a shared a great gastronomical laugh.


The Duke Tuesday Tasting menu $60 for 6 courses is available Tuesdays (duh) only, please book ahead.

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The Verdict
In an intense, high pressure industry it’s great to see two young lads leading the way in developing an inventive, witty and evolving menu. Nothing is taken with too much stern seriousness and it’s always a game to delve through the abstractly plated dishes and discover what’s buried beneath. The flip-side to this sense of unburdened creativity is that not all of the dishes are crowd pleasers with some combinations pushing the creative envelope. However if you’re up for something new and want to save a bit of coin, Tuesdays at the Duke is where you’ll score a bit of fun.

Duke Bistro
a. 63 Flinders St Darlinghurst
t. 9332 3180
e. reservations(at)dukebistro.com.au
w. www.dukebistro.com.au
b. blog.dukebistro.com.au

Duke Bistro on Urbanspoon

I still remember my first time at Bodega many years ago: sitting outside during dusk, laughing a bit too loudly, gobbling down golden little empanadas and pop corn riddled desserts with a bottle of crisp Argentinian white. So it’s with a heavy hit of nostalgia that Cathy and I walk through those same glass doors and pause under the familiar gaze of the Bodega bull.

Despite Sydney now being awash with South American fare, Bodega’s unique vibe and loyal clientele has cemented it as a stalwart of the oft fickle Sydney dining scene. Although rockabilly owners Elvis and Sarah have moved onto their new venture, they’ve left Bodega in the very capable hands of their well coiffed crew headed by Nicholas Wong (ex Billy Kwong).


Dark & Stormy: Goslings ‘Black Sea’ rum, spicy ginger & honey syrup, soda and lime $10

We arrive on a Monday night to find the main room already brimming and it takes a short round of musical chairs but we manage to secure a table and ease in with a couple of cocktails. Cathy opted for Bodega’s slightly dressier version of a Dark & Stormy whilst I was intrigued by a simple Argentine apertif.


Gancia & Pomelo: Aromatic wine and house pink grapefruit soda $10


Complimentary bread and Olive oil

I’m stoked to see that my enduring favourite, the “Fish Fingers” is still on the menu and we order it without hesitation.


“Fish Fingers”: sashimi Kingfish on garlic toast with cuttlefish ceviche and mojama $22

I loved the initial surprise of ordering the familiar and instead receiving something utterly unexpected but deliciously satisfying.These bad boys seem to have only gotten better with time: the beautifully thin layers of Kingfish sashimi topped with cuttlefish, sliced onions and a shavings of dried tuna are a riot.

Chipotle pulled pork steamed buns with pickled carrot $6 each

Everyone seems to be in on the sliders action (have you seen those Hungry Jacks ads?!) and I doubt I’m the first one to consider this creation to be slightly inspired by the infamous Momofuku buns. The pulled pork filling is doused in the chipotle sauce and the whole thing disappears in moments and we find ourselves wiping our mouths and wishing we’d ordered another…or four.

Veal Sweetbreads with Prawns, Soft Egg, Multigrains and Chicharrones $34

Never one to turn down the opportunity for some sweetbreads, we firstly pick off the fried pork fat and then stir the grains and sweetbreads through the runny yolk. The sweetbreads used here are taken from the thymus and are denser and more earthy tasting compared to the fluffy texture of the pancreas.

Corn tamale with black beans and avocado $20

Although I was pining after the Morcilla and scallops we thought we should listen to our heads and cap ourselves at 4 tapas. The last order was the corn tamale: a long sausage of corn dough filled with cheese and steamed in in corn husks, it was beautifully fragrant and surprisingly filling once paired with the stewed black beans and moreish home made tortilla chips.


With compliments from the kitchen: home cured bacon, leek, peas, fried leek stems, water cress, squid, squid ink, tomato jelly

Halfway through the corn tamale we admitted defeat and were ready to put down our forks when we were surprised with this little garden of treats! A playful salad tumbling with all manner of ingredients, each mouthful punctuated with bursts of sour, crunch, inkiness and sweetness.


With compliments from the kitchen: Fennel ice cream, fennel jelly, shaved fennel, sponge, puffed corn, poached pear

Finally we hit dessert and we’re well and truly drawing upon all our powers to access our second (dessert) stomach. While I’m not always a fan of fennel, I fell in love with the subtle sweetness and textures of this dessert.


With compliments from the kitchen: Macadamia cookie, chocolate dust, vanilla ice cream

The second offering appeared quite tame: a few pale hills resting upon a jade coloured ceramic bowl but one taste and we urged ourselves to keep going. The cookie shards were studded with chunks of macadamia and the dark chocolate dust offered a burnt bitterness to counter balance the ice cream.


Banana split: flan, salted peanuts, dulce de leche ice cream, banana marshmallow $16

The end is in sight and all that stands before us now is the final dessert: an interpretive version of the banana split. A long finger of banana flan rests in pool of caramel, offset by the salted peanuts and a puff of torched marshmallow, this too somehow manages to disappear before us as we swap jibes about who had the best dessert with the Texans at the table next to us.

It’s almost closing as we finally get up to leave. Fare-welling the waitresses and co-diners I slip out the door whilst Cathy shares a few words with the Kitchen.

I slowly waddle down Commonwealth street, entirely glad that despite the years and my alcohol infused memories, this old flame is still as beautiful and charming as when we first met.

The Verdict
Bodega’s modern Argentine fare packs a punch without feeling restrained by cultural cliches. The food not only reflects the restaurant’s Argentine heritage but also its presence as part of multicultural Sydney. Don’t come with any expectations and you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the playful menu and the chance to discover something new.

4

Bodega Tapas Bar
a. 216 Commonwealth St Surry Hills
t. 9212 7766
e. enquiries(at)bodegatapas.com
w. www.bodegatapas.com

Bodega on Urbanspoon

I’m a pretty awkward person and sometimes life feels like a string of trailing sentences, weird pauses and failing social graces. Trivial interactions become overblown dramatic scenarios or I sometimes just forget to use my inside voice (oops). Whilst I still feel extremely uncomfortable stepping into a luxury bag store or having bell boys carry my luggage, drop me off at a three hat restaurant and I’ll still feel at ease enough to make lame dirty jokes while asking for more complimentary buns (boom boom tish).

The three of us are at est. for the latest promotion: the Sunset menu which includes an entree, main and cocktail for $50. Considering mains alone at Doyle’s darling normally go for about $60 a pop this is a pretty sweet deal.

Jenny and I are late and as we drift up in the quiet hum of the elevator I can’t help but hold my breath a little, awaiting that magical moment when the doors slide open and we step into an alternative universe: a glorious vista of white waistcoats, marble, ebony, palms and french doors.


We move through the dimly lit corridor and into the dining area, a flurry of waiters welcome us and I’m a little alarmed by all the bowing and scraping but we’re soon sauntering over to our table and perusing the wine list while buttering some sliced sourdough.


Sunset cocktail: Vodka, cranberry, elderflower liqueur and apple, Kaffir lime leaf

First to appear are the blushing cocktails, an aromatic mix topped off with a Kaffir lime leaf which slowly infuses your drink with that familiar pep; I’m smitten and we vow to recreate this at home.


Italian buffalo mozzarella with fresh peach, serrano jamon and belgian endive

The menu itself is curt and we’re given two options for the entree and main. None of us were tempted by the market fresh Oysters with ponzu and instead opted for the mozzarella with peach and jamon. Three waiters decked in white appeared and uniformly served us our entree in one elegant gesture. The mozzarella was pillowy soft and compliments the classic flavours of jamon with fruit; Jenny mused that although delicious, the dish was a little overly simplistic and something we could easily make ourselves.


Pan roasted Palmer Island Mulloway fillet, tahini yoghurt, broccolini, green peas, dukkah

For the mains we were all eyeing the pan roasted Mulloway served with a slight Middle eastern bent. The fish was cooked perfectly and the nuttiness of the tahini proved an interesting contrast to the crispy clean flavours.

Halfway through a mouthful of Cathy’s fish, I pulled out a short bone from my mouth, a passing waiter inquired whether I’m alright and on spotting the bone, paled a little before fleeing to inform our waitress and the kitchen.


Pan roasted black angus beef fillet, wasabi miso and shallot butter, pak choy

I actually wanted the fish and am normally suspicious of anything served with pak choy but for the sake of multi-dish-ism I requested the Asian influenced beef instead. A round medallion of black angus appeared with a quiff of wasabi miso butter on a puddle of jus: the fillet was incredibly tender and the grittiness of the wasabi in the butter gave each mouthful a bit of punch. Overall Jenny considered this dish a more interesting proposition whilst I thought the flavours a little jarring.


Valrhona chocolate delice, caramelized banana, toasted rice ice cream $28

Although we’re penny pinchers, it would be blasphemous to leave without sampling a dessert. We settled on the creamy delice paired with a deliciously subtle banana cream, banana segments and a wafer thin layer of caramelised sugar which shattered on the tongue.

Vanilla bean latte cotto, berries, wafer – complimentary (normally $28)

By some strange sort of magic (or it turned out, the manager’s generosity) we’re given a second dessert to sample (perhaps something to do with a certain stray bone)! The latte cotto translates to “cooked milk”, a delicate sister of the traditional panna cotta which quivers under our spoons as we scoop up little segments along with the trail of berries.


Petite fours – complimentary (normally with tea or coffee $8)

Our sweet waitress comes by again to ask if we’d like tea or coffee but we can barely fit anything else in and so decline. However, a long plate of petite fours slide in front of our eyes, another kind gesture from the managers we suppose. Not one to waste food we divvied up the spoils of macaron, chocolate truffles, raspberry jube and basil jelly before licking our lips with satisfaction.


Although the sitting is timed we’re allowed to while away an extra hour sipping (tap) water, laughing (too) loudly and watching men with pocket squares and preening girls strut past. Maybe this isn’t quite ‘me’, but every now and again it’s good to sit in the company of the other half and pretend we’re a world away from the one we know below.

The Verdict
I remember Quay, Marque and Sepia vividly but always seem to fail to recall est. as being a three hatted destination. In order to make the offer viable, the food served at for the Sunset menu are simplified versions of existing est. dishes and it shows. Each element of the dish is well considered and plated with an eye for perfection however the whole never seems greater than the sum of its parts. Despite this, if money is of no concern then I could easily eat here several days a week: the dishes are timeless and never smack of fads or appear spurious. The waitstaff are efficient and act with consideration and touching small gestures (one waiter even came over to kindly push Jenny’s chair in for her as she returned from the bathrooms). If the prices make your mouth drop but you’ve always been curious, then this is a great opportunity to see what the fuss is all about.

The Sunset menu runs until the 31st of January and includes an entree, main and cocktail for $50. Bookings must be made for a 1.5hr sitting starting between 6-7pm.

est.
a. Level 1 Establishment, 252 George Street Sydney
t. 9240 3010
w. www.merivale.com

Est. on Urbanspoon

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.

Three out of five

The Verdict
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
w. www.fratellifresh.com.au
Cafe Sopra on Urbanspoon