Soft, earthy lentils are soaking up rich roasting juices like little spongelettes.
We rate this slow-roasted goat as one of the stand-out winter dishes this season.
There is no prominent signage nor grand entrance, just a sliver of dark alley leading into a small and intimate dining room.
And that’s exactly the charm of Berta.
“Where da hell is this restaurant?” Chopinand yells loudly, clearly annoyed as we wander the streets around nondescript buildings in the chill of a winter night.
“Be patient will you, it’s just around the corner!!” I retort. “They did tell me this place is not easy to find.”
Tucked away behind a tiny office block, Berta is named after Alberta, the small side street it sits on. Among the few hidden gems in Sydney’s inner city, the restaurant hides a compact world of sparkling Italian bites.
Berta has jumped onto the ‘shared plates’ bandwagon so diners get a taste of all dishes instead of the ‘traditional 3-course’ meal. Be forewarned as there is not a single pizza nor pasta on its menu. What you will get is fresh Australian produce, treated with respect and given tantalizing new twists by head chef O Tama Carey.
A passion for the freshest of seasonal produce has inspired her to celebrate a key ingredient every Tuesday with a Sagra evening. In Italy, sagra is a local festival that often involves food.
A quick peek into Bertha’s website shows ingredients coming up for the next few Sagra evenings to include beetroot, blood orange, duck and brassica flowers with Phil. A four-course menu is reasonably priced at $55 with an optional wine flight for an additional $40.
(Please refer to the end of this blog post for more details about Tuesday Sagra evenings).
Andrew Cibej, the mastermind behind 121 BC and Vini, is a master of small plates with big Italian flavours that pay homage to its produce. I have been fan of 121 BC, a wine bar where chefs churn out great Italian bar food from a tiny kitchen and knowledgeable waiters navigate you through the maze of Italian wine varietals that don’t cost the earth.
Berta’s wine list showcases predominantly Italian varietals which use bio-dynamic and sustainable farming practices. There is a wide range of Italian wines by the glass, which you can also purchase from Vini Wine Importers, part of the Berta family.
A 2011 Corino Langhe Nebbiolo hails from the Piedmont region, characterized by the cooler north western region of Italy.
Like a passionate Italian, this wine is bold yet elegant with a complex bouquet of berries and plums. It reminds me of Nessun Dorma, an aria in the final act of Puccini’s grand Italian opera Turandot, a classic which has been interpreted by so many operatic masters.
While sipping our wine, we check out the food. Lasagne with chicken hearts ragu and saffron tonnarelli with walnuts and capers springs out of the menu, to just name a few.
We start with kingfish bruschetta (cover image above), a tiny morsel that packs a salty and spicy punch. Lemon cured and garnished with capers and chives, kingfish slivers are sitting on crispy chargrilled crostini smeared with horseradish cream.
“Are we in an Italian restaurant?” Chopinand quips.
Sometimes, I still wonder if he is serious.
“This bruschetta looks a bit like Japanese sushi to me” he adds.
This is the thing I love about Sydney dining at the moment.
Chefs are not resting on good traditional fare laurels because they can’t. It’s simply not good enough in this competitive environment with so many restaurants popping up every month. They are thinking outside the box and challenging culinary norms and the results are exciting. New flavours are paying homage to tradition with the best of Australian ingredients.
The lingering taste of spicy horseradish and gentle tang of the fish and capers are tempting me to order another portion but I resist at the thought of more tempting dishes on the menu.
Chopinand and I both love brussels sprouts which are one of the most underrated vegetables. Frequently ill-treated by being boiled to death, I believe this is the main reason people dislike these green little bad boys.
Recently, brussels sprouts are enjoying a resurgence, literally sprouting up everywhere. At Porteno, they are deep fried to a golden crisp and at Nomad, they are roasted with pancetta. At The Boathouse on Blackwattle Bay, sprouts are gently boiled with bacon cream, 63 degree Celcius egg and herbs.
Here at Berta, a third of their outer leaves are deep-fried, then garnished with parmesan over thinly shaved raw hearts. According to chef Carey, even hardcore sprout naysayers are being converted.
Food lovers ought to take note when a restaurant makes its own cheese. At Berta, the burrata is house-made and it shows.
Three pillows of soft, creamy burrata nestle around braised fennel slices, sprinkled with fennel fronds and finished with a drizzle of olive oil.
We are savouring every bite of this creamy burrata with braised fennel on crispy chargrilled rye bread.
Chopinand loves the strong, gamey flavour of goat – Greek-style or in soups and stews are his favourites. On a cold winter night, slow-roasted goat on the menu sounds too hearty to resist and it’s an instant concurrence between us, something which happens very rarely.
For the world’s most widely consumed red meat, goat can be tricky to cook due to its leanness. A poor attempt renders the meat dry and chewy but when done well, goat is succulent and full of flavour.
At Berta, goat is slow-roasted in red wine, then paired with earthy lentils and salsa verde.
We are really looking forward to this hearty goat but it arrives barely lukewarm.
Upon request, the goat is whizzed back into the kitchen, no questions asked. It arrives a second time beautifully toasty after some heat from the oven. In addition, our waiter presents a complimentary garden salad of radiccio, lettuce and rocket leaves as a gesture for service recovery. This is the hallmark of a good restaurant that is in sync with its guests.
When we finally fork into the goat meat, it comes apart in tender strands with fragrant herb and garlic aromas from the salsa verde.
Soft, earthy lentils are soaking up rich roasting juices like little spongelettes. Paired with our full bodied Italian wine, we rate this slow-roasted goat as one of the stand-out winter dishes this season.
“So, was it worth the effort finding this place?” I ask Chopinand.
Slumped in his seat, sniffing his wine with the usual nonchalant look on his face, he takes another sip.
He finally leans over and whispers into my ear.
“Sweetheart, thanks for a lovely dinner.”
So dear readers, what do you think of shared plates in an Italian restaurant?
17 – 19 Alberta street
Sydney, New South Wales
Tel: +61 2 9264 6133
Opening hours: Lunch Friday 12pm to 3pm, Aperitivo Friday 3pm to 6pm, Dinner Tuesday to Saturday 6pm till late.
This restaurant is fully licensed and does not allow BYO.
Tuesday Sagra evenings
Please note that due to the specific nature of ingredients required for Sagra dinners, Berta is unable to make any alterations to the menu. Please contact the restaurant if you have any questions. Bookings are for 6pm or 8.30pm only.