Monday, March 06, 2006

Lunch at Il Baretto

Il Baretto (‘the little bar’ in Italian) is an established respectable Surry Hills resident for a number of reasons. Consistent, no fuss, simple Italian food. It’s inexpensive. It’s cute and buzzy. It’s inexpensive. The coffee is excellent. Oh, and it doesn’t cost too much to eat there either. However, since the last time I visited in 2005 the prices are slightly higher, the menu has expanded a little, and there are renovations in the form of wooden wall baffles that dampen the din in the small, echo-y, all concrete interior.

I’m put off by a loud “hello girls!!!” screeched by a waiter as I walk in, and I look behind me to see who he might be talking to. Apparently it was me and one of my lunch companions. I felt like saying, Little Britain style, “no, no young man, I’m a LAAAAAdy” but I resist and just nod, looking as non-plussed as I can. As we walk down into the back section to meet Mr Burger and Giovanni, the same screechy waiter yells after us flailing his hands “Girls! Girls! there’s nothing set up down theeeeeere!!” which seems odd as there’s a table for four with glasses and cutlery etc ready to go. So us Laaaaaadies sit down anyway and let him flap off to orbit some other imagined disaster. Oh well, luvvies always get a bit strung out in Mardi Gras week.

The basic menu is written on butchers’ paper on the wall and hasn’t changed much since the immensely talented Antonio Facchinetti opened it several years ago. He left in 2004, and despite the change in management, they haven’t mucked around too much with the homey menu that obviously keeps people coming back - expect a queue on busy nights. Bruschetta (left), polenta with sausage, and risotto pesto e pollo. Home made gnocchi, fettucini, penne, and spaghetti, with a mix and match choice of sauces (Arabiata, Napoletana, Carbonara, Piccante, Bolognese, Pesto). There are a number of extra specials today, delived in rapid fire by our tattooed, rockabilly waitress who insists on silence from the room so she doesn't have to repeat it to all the tables one by one. If available there is usually spaghetti vongolé bianco in a sauce sauce of white wine, parsely, oil and a little chilli, (as there is today).
We choose one of the additional starters, the caramelized fig salad to share, as well as the luscious tomato and basil bruschetta pictured above. For mains there is a beetroot and goats cheese ravioli in an Arabiata sauce, as well as a generous helping of beef lasagna. I can rarely pass up the gnocchi, made on the premises and as delicate and light as they come. I choose gorgonzola sauce above a tomato based one, knowing I will never finish it anyway. The servings are enormous, so don’t think you can tuck in to two courses unless you’re stopping in on your way cycling to Melbourne.

The star is the fig salad (above and below left) . Gently caramel-warm figs with rocket, semi dried tomatoes and proscuitto, dressed scantly with balsamic and olive oil, tastes perfectly balanced and whets our appetite. The ravioli is also pretty good – a more exotic offering than the farmhouse Italian staples the menu offers, but difficult to share a picture with you as it's drowned in sauce and looks like, well, a plate of tomato sauce. It’s hard to go wrong with the bruschetta at this time of year with ripe full-flavoured organic tomatoes enveloped in a film of excellent olive oil. The lasagna (below) is a bit ordinary to my taste – I prefer a little more herbiness and pepper. But it does the trick and warms the tummy.

The gnocchi is a floating cloud of cheesy indulgence and luckily everyone tucks in to help polish it off. If you go for dinner don’t pass up the papardelle with duck ragu which is a real treat and a signature dish of this trattoria.

Panna cotta, tiramisu and affogato, plus a selection of counter treats and gelato, comprise the dessert fare. Today we look past these temptations as we have something special waiting back at my house.

What used to be a hearty meal for about $15-18 each is now up ‘round $25 plus each (without dessert or coffee), but that still represents value for money. This particular Friday lunch time I notice that it’s not as packed with patrons as it usually is, maybe reflecting the elevated prices, or the increased competition and choice in the area. The service and staff could be described as either absently laid back or hysterically theatrical (so very Surry Hills). When Il Baretto was many dollars per person less expensive than it is now, you could forgive almost any temporary lapse of memory on a busy shift, or bit of grit on a salad leaf or baby clam. But with higher prices comes higher responsibilities to diners who are parting with their hard earned sheckles, so as long as the game is lifted to match the financial outlay it should remain a stayer in this restaurant-rich pocket of Sydney.

Il Baretto is BYO only (with a $1 pp corkage, or ‘screwage’ as I prefer to call it when you have to open your own stelvin-capped bottle of white without them ever having laid a finger on it) and doesn’t take bookings or credit cards.

Il Baretto
496 Bourke StSurry Hills, 2010
Open breakfast, lunch dinner, Tuesday – Saturday,
Breakfast til 3pm Sunday. Closed Monday.


Anonymous helen said...

I loooove figs!

Haven't tried this place yet. I fig-ure I must do so. Quickly!

10:17 AM  
Anonymous Sue said...

mmmm figs. I have some figs in my fridge awaiting a good death. I think caramelization is a good way to die! And with such partners as prosciutto, one absolutely cannot go wrong.

the restaurant sounds good too, gnocchi gorgonzola is proof that God is Italian. How unchinese of me.

7:31 PM  
Blogger Reb said...

It's still a gem, and on a good day you won't be disappointed. Breakfast is pretty good too!

8:38 AM  
Blogger Julia said...

Thanks so much for this review - I have been meaning to go for years. I adore gnocchi with gorgonzola and I love trying signature dishes, especially one that sounds as more-ish as parpadelle with duck ragu. Plus it's just up the road from me, might try it this weekend!

11:10 AM  
Blogger Reb said...

love to hear what you think of it, julia

7:28 AM  
Anonymous gobsmack'd said...

Giiiiirrrrlll! Have been going for years. Love it immensely. Leaves the pretenders round the area for dead, namely one on Crown St. By the by, Maestro Facchinetti WAS meant to leave, but never quite did. Grazie al Signor!

6:34 AM  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home