I love Italian food because, apart from French, Chinese and Indian, it is one of the great cuisines of the world. To me, these four cuisines are among the richest in food culture that date back thousands of years into the pages of history.
Depending on which region of Italy it hails from, Italian food is generally tasty and satisfying. Some of the best Italian dishes are also the simplest ones such as pasta tossed with some fresh herbs and olive oil.
Tonight, we are heading to a casual neighbourhood restaurant famous for its classic Italian pastas. Il Baretto in the hip and trendy suburb of Surry Hills has been around for more than a decade. Its no-booking policy generated nightmarish queues when it first opened back in the early 2000s.
And if there was a more casual Italian restaurant than Il Baretto in Sydney, then I would like to know about it. A straight forward menu, snappy service and simple pastas are hallmarks of this casual eatery.
You know it’s a casual restaurant when there is just one white and one red wine to choose from on its “wine list”.
The wine is cheap because wine glasses look exactly like water glasses in this restaurant. So for more serious drinkers, you might want to consider BYO wine glasses too since BYO wine is only $2 per person.
Nevertheless, in the dozen or so times that I have dined at this restaurant over the years, diners come here for the simplicity of its pastas. Surry Hills trendites like this place as a casual hangout joint.
The one-page hand-written menu and wall specials say it all. You only have a few choices for entree followed by the usual suspects of risotto, papardelle, spaghetti and lasagna.
I have never been a fan of a savoury and sweet combination but a pan-seared haloumi with honey works really well. The salty taste and squishy texture is a great contrast to the sweet, sticky honey.
A few mouthfuls later, I begin to think about this simple and tasty dish for our next BBQ at home.
A beef carpaccio is as simple as they come. Wafer-thin slices of raw beef are decorated with shavings of parmesan and topped with a huddle of rocket leaves. Drizzled with some extra virgin olive oil, all that is needed is a sprinkling of salt, black pepper and perhaps a squeeze of lemon juice.
Mysaucepan‘s prawn, bisque and asparagus risotto is rich and creamy with seafood flavours. The al dente texture of each grain of rice beautifully complements the crunchy bits of asparagus.
Risotto is one of my favourite Italian dishes because it is so hearty and comforting especially in winter. It has literally unlimited and unexpected choices of flavours from so many versatile ingredients that can go into this Italian classic. This to me is Chinese congee, Italian style.
A spaghetti alla vongole is a hearty plate of pasta tossed with continental parsley and vongole clams. It is simple, tasty and satisfying. It reminded me of my favourite spaghetti carbonara in Sydney.
Il Baretto is a good choice if you are looking for simple and honest pasta around Sydney.
The dishes we ordered tonight can quite easily be replicated at home so why is this restaurant still so popular?
I think you can’t go too far wrong when you order classic dishes which are cooked with a bit of care and love. Then again, classic dishes are about the only items on the menu.
So dear readers, do you have a favourite casual Italian restaurant to share with us?
496, Bourke street, Surry Hills
New South Wales
Tel: +61 2 9361 6163
Business hours: Lunch & Dinner Tuesdays – Saturdays
Il Baretto do not accept bookings or credit cards. BYO wine is $2 per person.