Since re-branding itself as The Star from its tacky past of being The Star City, Sydney’s casino has been upping the ante on its stable of restaurants.
In an obvious move to compete with the glitzy elegance of Melbourne’s Crown Casino which boasts big names like Nobu and Sydney’s pair of celebrity chefs Neil Perry and Guillaume Brahimi, Sydney has reciprocated by enlisting Melburnian Teage Ezard’s Black and big gun David Chang’s Momofuku Sieobo.
Often lauded as Australia’s godfather of Italian cooking, Stefano Manfredi’s Balla restaurant is Mysaucepan‘s choice for her birthday dinner tonight.
Manfredi’s menu combines the subtle taste of fresh seafood with traditionally stronger flavours of bottarga, aioli and salsa verde.
The wine list is extensive and it showcases Italian varietals from all over the motherland. Sommelier Fabio Danzi is understandably partial to Italian wines and navigates us through the wine growing regions of Italy with a few touches of his finger on an iPad.
“Isn’t technology a great enabler these days?” I tell Mysaucepan.
“Sure it is” she says. “As long as we are not technosauruses” she adds.
Similar to the Zinfandel varietal, I choose a 2011 Terrale Primitivo Italian to pay a little homage.
This wine has distinctive wood shaving aromas. Bold and full bodied with plums and prunes, tannins are soft on the finish.
Foccacia arrives the moment our food order is confirmed. Quality balsamic and EVOO always do great justice to similar quality bread.
Balla is a fairly large restaurant, its elongated shape taking in the views of the harbour and city.
Tonight, the dining room is abuzz with Saturday night revelers and casino-goers.
We decide on a special pasta because of the thought of freshly shaved bottarga being stirred into the mix.
The pasta is al dente in a thick sauce made up of squid strips, asparagus and grape tomato that is a refreshing change from the usual suspects like marinara, spag bol and carbonara.
Bottarga works its usual wonders to lend a pungent, seafood flavour that brings the entire dish to life.
Line-caught whole snappers are on display at the front of the restaurant.
But the raw fish of the day is Australian kingfish that is thinly sliced and mixed with mandolin-shaved radish and celery strips. Drizzled with top quality EVOO, this simple yet refreshing summer dish is inspiring a replication at home on my next visit to the Sydney Fish Market.
A small sprinkle of salt is all that is needed to enhance the subtle and sweet taste of the kingfish.
Toothfish is the menacing and ugly looking ocean creature that is made elegant by a number of Sydney chefs at the moment. One rather unforgettable interpretation of toothfish that I discovered was in Lau’s Family Kitchen in Melbourne where it is pan-seared and drizzled with a special soy sauce.
Here at Balla, a toothfish fillet is lightly seared until the skin is teasingly crisp. That signature white meat that so resembles cod fish falls apart in its natural pattern with a gentle yield of the fork.
The sweet subtle taste of fish is complemented by a smoked eggplant puree. The tartness of pickled carrots seems a little intrusive to me. Perhaps charred asparagus or zucchini spears with a similar smoky flavour as the eggplant would work better.
The menu says ‘duck breast with shaved asparagus and beetroots’ but it arrives with finely sliced French beans instead.
Nevertheless, the duck breast is pink on the inside as it should be. Cut into thick strips, the meat is soft with its subtle gamey flavour. The skin is nicely caramelized although it can be a tad more crisp.
Beetroot puree adds a bold colour but I find it a little meek for the duck which is yearning tartness. A citrus pairing such as orange would always work but it might turn the duck alarmingly French.
My preference would be a sour cherry sauce instead of the sweet beetroot puree although small wedges of pickled yellow and pink beetroot helped somewhat.
For dessert, Mysaucepan’s profiterole is warm and crisp, a sure sign that it is fresh off the oven.
Strawberries and blue berries remind us that we are in a warm and beautiful summer in Sydney.
What topped our dining experience is the service from our young Italian waitress. Friendly, attentive and knowledgeable, she is a shining example of what professional hospitality should be.
On hearing we are here for Mysaucepan’s birthday, she presents us with a copy of Manfredi’s cookbook that showcases some of his favourite recipes for the four seasons.
So dear readers, have you tasted toothfish before and if so, do you like it?
Level G, Harbourside
80 Pyrmont street, Pyrmont
New South Wales
Tel: + 61 2 9657 9129