Update: September 2013 – Ormeggio at The Spit was awarded Two Hats at the Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide Awards 2014.
It all started with my birthday dinner in January. I posted a question on Facebook and was trying to decide where to go with Chopinand and narrowed it down to two restaurants on my hit list – Ormeggio at The Spit in Mosman or Six Penny at Stanmore.
My foodie friend Peta replied instantly “Go to Six Penny so that we can check out Ormeggio together!” It was a brilliant suggestion as we always enjoy discovering new restaurants with our foodie partners in crime Peta and Chris.
I thought it would be quite a challenge to book this popular restaurant on weekends but what was an even greater task was finding a sliver of a slot in Peta and Chris’ jam packed social calendar. The idea was mooted in summer and we only managed to lock in a date in winter!
So after six months of anticipation, the day finally arrived. You could not have asked for a worse day to be near the water at The Spit. The rain was pelting down and the wind was howling, obliterating the usually spectacular views of Middle Harbour.
Thankfully, the weather cleared up towards the end and we enjoyed views of the water, dotted with luxurious yachts and million dollar homes. After all, this restaurant is called Ormeggio, which means “mooring” in Italian and the views certainly lived up to its name.
Our friends arrived early and were already sipping the NV Ca’ Del Bosco Franciacorta ‘Cuvee Prestige’ pinot noir-chardonnay from Lombardy.
This Italian sparkling wine has a buttery characteristic and a lovely dry finish – a great way to start our Italian long lunch.
While we study the food menu, we left the rest of the wine selection in Chris’ capable hands, our wine connoisseur. Both the food and wine menus are reflective of Chef Alessandro Pavoni’s Lombardian origins, an area north-west of Italy with beautiful lakes, Alpine forests and intensively cultivated plains of the Po River valley and a cool continental climate.
As we decide what to order, warm sourdough bread arrived with freshly churned sour butter, sea salt and olive oil.
This was soon followed by the amuse bouche - tapioca crisps with parmesan mousse and tomato powder. I could easily eat a bag of these gourmet crisps – light, crispy and packed with flavour when dotted with the savoury parmesan mousse and tart tomato dust.
Ormeggio’s menu for a Sunday lunch consists of a choice for ala carte of 3 courses for $79, 4 courses for $95 or two degustation choices for $85 and $105 (each with the option for matching wines at $139 and $189 respectively).
And then, the Stressless Sunday 4 course dinner for $59 appears to be great value for money.
There is a good balance of seafood, meat, pastas and risottos on the menu with Chef Pavoni’s modern and innovative take. Familiar flavours are given a new and surprising twist – carrot and fennel seed, pork and rhubarb, wallaby and amaranth just to name a few.
Thankfully, there are four of us, which means we could order one of everything from each course and taste one another’s food, just the way we like to eat.
As we move into the first course, we were ready for the next bottle of wine and Chris chooses a 2009 Zuani Reserva which consists of four varietals - friulano, chardonnay, sauvignon and pinot grigio.
Chopinand finds the buttery and oaky aromas of the chardonnay while we detect subtle hints of toastiness, vanilla and ripened fruit.
Chopinand and Peta order the most interesting first course of Flinders Island wallaby buttuta that ushers us into the unknown territories of wallaby meat.
Similar to steak tartare, the finely diced wallaby meat has the earthiness of beef but is lightened up with refreshing watermelon rind and topped with crispy amaranth, a high protein grain similar to quinoa which gives this dish its interesting texture and toasty flavour.
My first course is a seared blue mackerel with buttermilk, mussel powder and pickled onions.
It is art on a plate – with the blue mackerel sitting pretty against a black canvas and the pink onions with a swig of buttermilk sauce. The mackerel is nicely seared, with its skin rendered crispy but I find the mackerel aromas a little strong for my liking although Chopinand likes it. The pickled onions cut through the oiliness and the buttermilk and mussel power tie the whole dish together.
The wine goes well with our fish courses and Chris opts for the ling fish baccala with dutch cream potatoes and crispy polenta. The salted cod is soaked and blended with the creamy mash to give this dish its smooth texture and a rather mild fish flavour. The crispy polenta added an interesting textural contrast against the creamy baccala.
To accompany our second course, Chris chooses a 2006 Perticaia Sagrantino from the Italian region of Umbria. This wine is bold yet tannins are soft with a complex structure and a dry finish.
If there is one dish you need to try at Ormeggio, it’s Chef Pavoni’s signature risotto.
It changes every season and Chopinand chooses the winter canaroli risotto with buffalo mozzarella, tomato, capers,olives and basil. Creamy and comforting, the risotto arrives flat on the plate and shows off every grain of rice. Visually, there is no hint of tomato but the tartness of this red fruit comes through in the clear tomato stock that is used.
Buffalo mozzarella is added at the last minute and you can still taste each morsel of the cheese melting slowly into the risotto. When sprinkled with finely diced olives and capers, the dish achieves the right balance of tart, savoury and creamy in one mouthful.
The wine goes well with my tagliolini with chestnut mushroom, porcini powder and dill.
Tagliolini is a thicker version of spaghetti and here, it is tossed with slices of meaty chestnut mushrooms, its earthy mushroom flavour intensified by the dried porcini powder on top. If you love mushrooms, you will love the smoky and woody tone of this dish.
As we move into the third course, we head into the heavy hitters.
Peta orders the pink snapper with macadamia, leek, jalapeno and salicornia powder.
The fish is lightly poached and draped in a creamy macadamia coat, giving this dish its subtle nutty flavour, with a slight jalapeno kick at the end. Purple potato chips add a crispy texture to this soft and creamy dish.
Chopinand opts for the charcoal grilled wagyu beef flank with watercress, baby beetroot and sesame seeds.
A thick slice of wagyu beef arrives, coated with a dark and mysterious layer of ash, which adds a smoky intensity to the beef, heightened by the toasty sesame seed sauce. The meat is juicy and tender and a small morsel was enough to complete the meal.
The suckling pig with parsnip puree, pickled rhubarb, roasted onion shell and mustard seeds is undoubtedly the star of the show.
The crackling is gloriously crispy, providing a great foil to the soft and succulent meat, which instantly melts in the mouth.
Who would have thought of using rhubarb with pork but the tartness works beautifully with the sweetness of the meat and the punch of seeded mustard – a great dish indeed.
We savour the last few drops of the Perticaia Sagrantino which opens up nicely towards the end of our meal.
The dining room at Ormeggio is packed even though it’s a rainy Sunday but the skies begin to clear up by mid afternoon.
A bottle of 2009 Chateau Rumieu Lacoste ‘Cuvée André’ Semillon Sauvignon looks glorious in the Sydney sun.
This dessert sticky looks like pale liquid gold and has hints of caramel, an enticing prospect with our stellar desserts.
Just when we think we could not fit another morsel of food, the dessert menu arrives and I always find a second stomach for dessert. We decide to order all three desserts to share.
Interesting, surprising and sometimes confronting, there isn’t a single tiramisu or pannacotta in sight.
Instead, carrot and fennel seed feature in an ice cream, beautifully presented with faro cream, edible flowers and vinegar caramel. Sweet yet sour, creamy yet crunchy, the flavour combinations are beyond anyone’s wildest imagination.
Toasted rice gelato added a smoky dimension to the rich and dense ricotta and rice pudding, with a layer of crusty rice at the bottom for texture. The earl grey tea and lemon freshens the whole dish, which would otherwise be heavy.
If you are a chocolate lover, you’ll love the Amedei tuscan black chocolate with mandarin and cilantro. Amedei is a luxury chocolate brand from Tuscany and is renowned for its organic dark chocolate. In this dish, it is transformed into a smooth and rich chocolate mousse and given a herbaceous twist with cilantro and mandarin.
The boys finish off their lunch with a couple of Italian brews.
As we finish the last spoonful of our sweet treats, the sun emerges from the dark clouds to reveal the golden hues of sunset, a cue for us to make tracks.
It was definitely well worth the six month wait to catch up with great friends over fabulous food in one of Sydney’s beautiful harbour settings.
So dear readers, which is your favourite Sydney restaurant to catch up with friends?
Ormeggio at The Spit
The Spit, Mosman
New South Wales
Tel: +61 2 9969 4088
Opening hours: Dinner Wednesday – Sunday, lunch Friday – Sunday