From the man behind some of Sydney's best bars: Lobo Plantation, Kittyhawk and the food and beverage hit, Big Poppa's, comes Jared Merlino's latest opening, an Italian all-day cafe, restaurant and bar, Bartolo.
We've actually been open 8 months, the waitress informs me, when I ask on a beautiful sunny Winter Sunday for lunch. I am here in the chic bistro-vibe restaurant with my sister and mum for another birthday lunch (YES- another one!). We are following this with a painting session at Cork and Chroma in Surry Hills so having an early lunch before our foray into the visual arts world. #artists I saw Bartolo in Surry Hills listed among the best new openings on Broadsheet or Concrete Playground or something like that so off we went to try it out. I really love a restaurant that is open all day. With 2 young kids, I'm often eating at strange times, hello- dinner at 5pm!, breakfast at 7am! Those of you without kids, PLEASE enjoy your sleep ins now, because once you have kids, a sleep in is about as common as getting a 7th nugget in your 6 pack at Maccas. #7thnugget #touchedbyanangel #gobuyalottoticket
The 3 of us are quite decisive women when it comes to food so we make quick work of ordering and start working on the first bottle of Pino Grigio. Everything is brought out very quickly by friendly and efficient servers and water is topped constantly. My sister is nursing a hangover so not her usual lively self, but she is pushing through like the drinking thoroughbred she is. She grimaces at the first glass, but finds her groove quickly. When I see Burrata on a menu I always have to order it. It is such a beautiful product and really doesn't need much added to it to taste amazing, and this one is no exception. The chefs at Bartolo have served theirs with marinated tomatoes, a puree made of an Italian green similar to broccoli, basil oil and white anchovies. Tomatoes and basil are pretty standard accompaniments to burrata but the white anchovy is really a stroke of genius. Anchovies can be polarizing (hubby declares them to be stinky little hairy fish) but white anchovies are actually pickled and more plump than normal, adding a vinegary zing that brightens the entire dish. We all agree it is absolutely beautiful. We mop up the left over oil and puree on the plate with the housemade focaccia which is light as a feather pillow. Our other starter is the Wagyu Rump Beef Tartare with mustard mayo and black olive. This is served with a crisp bread which we shatter and use as little barges, carrying the tartare as precious cargo. The beef is chopped chunky enough that we still get the texture of the meat, but fine enough that we are able to chew without any discomfort. The dressing, add-ins and mustard are the perfect balance with enough salt, sour, sweet to make us 3 very happy women. We are all very impressed with the quality and balance of these starters, and really looking forward to mains.
“I am keen to try the gnocchi here because I have made it my personal mission in life to find a gnocchi that lives up to the incredible dish that chef Alex Herbert used to serve at her Surry Hills restaurant, Bird Cow Fish which unfortunately closed in 2012. Her gnocchi was so soft and light, it had the texture of mashed potato that somehow held together in little pillows. In my mind, that is the gold standard, triple A rating, best in class, G.O.A.T. gnocchi of the world and I would love to have those tasty little morsels in my life once more. Judging by the standard of these starters we just had, things were looking good.”
Alas, the gnocchi arrives, and although its very nice, its just not the same. Which begs the question, was it all just a dream? Did I build this gnocchi up so much in my head that nothing will ever live up to it? My fellow diners (who also had the pleasure of having the gnocchi at Bird Cow Fish) agree this dish is nice, the pillows are anything but stodgy but they don't reach the heights of the dream gnocchi and the legend of the gnocchi will haunt them forever #gnocchidreams. Wow that's a lot of passion about gnocchi. But if you had the gnocchi at Bird Cow Fish, you know what I'm talking about #ifyouknowyouknow
While the conversation continues on between my mum and sister, I am quietly making sweet love to my pasta. The special of Tagliatelle with a Pork Belly Ragu and Pork ribs is right up my alley. The housemade pasta is a perfect al dente, the ragu of pork is rich and luxurious and cooked down to falling apart stage with tomato sauce that tastes (creamy?) maybe? It is delicious! I could eat this dish every day of my life and never get bored. The ribs on top are cooked very well, and tasty but I kind of see it like putting red lipstick on Gigi Hadid. Its a nice addition, and I'm definitely not mad at it, but not necessary. The pasta is a 10/10 it on its own. And the beans! Oh the beans. These beans were punching waaaay above their weight. I mean, they're just green beans! But these beans had a fresh crunch that you get from cooking them only just enough to take the raw edge off, dressed and served a top an almond pesto that was a revelation. The final topping of crispy fried shallots just sent it into oblivion. Anyone who doesn't like to eat their greens should try these. The almond pesto and fried onion adds a savoury meatiness and umami hit that we're all obsessed with at the moment. Definitely going to try to recreate these at home.
Unfortunately, dessert time suffers the same fate as the gnocchi. The tiramisu really is lovely, the mascarpone is light and the coffee flavour has a welcome intensity, but being such a ubiquitous and classic Italian dish, we each have a dream tiramisu in our heads, eaten years ago that can never quite be topped. It didn't help that the very personable waiter hypes up this tiramisu so our expectations are very high. Again, it is a lovely dessert but just not living up to our memories of amazing tiramisus devoured on Italian holidays. Sometimes those memories are better left un-topped.
Wrapping up lunch, we are so impressed, even without our dream dishes being matched. The casual yet chic decor, impeccable service, gorgeous food and beverage all come together in a symphony of warm hospitality that makes it feel like Nonna is out back in the kitchen cooking. My favourite dish, the pork belly ragu pasta just might even join the ranks of my all time favourite dishes in my head. I feel sorry for all the pastas that try to live up to that beautiful mash up of carbs and swine. #sorrynotsorry
359 Crown St, Surry Hills
*This meal was independently paid for.