It is absolutely typical of me to stretch my birthday out for as long as possible to maximize benefits/excuses. As well as a preluding one-week buffer of "Oh, it's my birthday, I can eat what I want" and a celebratory party with friends one whole month after the actual date, I gave myself a 3 day long weekend in Sydney crammed full of food excursions.
Marc and I arrived in time for dinner on Friday night. This was meant to be our quiet celebration together so we broke out the red wine and thought about where to go. Sydney has a trend of booking-free restaurants which I found annoying at first, but can now see as a benefit if you want to decide where to go right before you go. That was the case with Il Baretto. My craving for Italian food fluctuated that week but bang on Friday night, I found myself in the mood for pasta again. I figured that with its no booking policy, Il Baretto would probably be one of 'those' restaurants where you queue outside for an hour like an idiot. Marc HATES the idea of queueing for a restaurant and as much as I love food, I'm in agreement with him. However trendy it is to eat at certain places, the bottom line is it's still a hospitality and service industry! The way some venues go about it these days, you almost have to beg and go leaps and bounds just for the 'honour' of tasting their food.
That's not to say I'm not also one of those dweebs who run the mile to try :p (*ahem Quay and Momofuku Seibo, I'm looking at you).
But I digress... with Il Baretto, we arrived late (by Brisbane standards), which is probably normal by Sydney standards. It was about 9:30pm and the restaurant was full but full of people who were nearly finishing off their meals. We couldn't get a table but we got to sit at the window bar, which I preferred anyway. There was no waiting for our seats.
The restaurant is BYO but we didn't know so we were wineless. Marc toyed with the idea of finding a bottleshop and buying a cheapie to bring in. As non-locals, that's too bloody difficult so we ended up going for a bottle of their red. It was amusingly served in regular glasses. I'm no princess when it comes to booze; I drink wine from paper cups and coffee mugs at home... but this is the first time I've seen it done at a restaurant.
There was an everyday menu and a very long specials menu. I don't think they mean specials in the same way that most other restaurants do i.e. "we're making this today only" because many items I saw on the specials menu were recommendations from reviews I read of Il Baretto. Perhaps they mean chef specialties.
Bruschetta al pomodoro
I decided that we would have some bruschetta to share as starters, forgetting (intentionally) that Marc doesn't eat tomato. He complained the whole time so I berated him about his inability to appreciate just how good the quality of tomato is. Hey, I'm not a tomato fanatic but all that means is it takes a really good tomato to make any impression on me. And to me, this did it.
Pappardelle with duck ragu
My pick for mains was the duck pappardelle. Yes you've heard it all on this blog before. I love pappardelle (although I can never spell it and need to Google it every time). I love duck. This was mentioned on several reviews that I read as Il Baretto's must-try signature dish. It was a no brainer choice for me. The pasta was... ok. Marc pulled no punches and declared that he wasn't all that impressed. The pasta itself was cooked well but it didn't have that rustic, homemade quality I like in restaurant pasta. The sauce was the biggest letdown for me. It reminded me of an Asian stir-fry, thickened with starch. There was nothing spectacular about the flavor. I will admit that I thought the actual duck pieces were amazingly tender. If this whole dish comprised of nothing but duck pieces, I would have been sold. As a pasta dish, in particular the SIGNATURE pasta dish, I was disappointed.
Risotto with porcini mushrooms
Marc spent ages undecided on which main he wanted to try. He knows I'm not a lover of risotto but I found the mushroom risotto enticing on the menu so I suggested we try that. This risotto dish pretty much cemented in my mind why I should never order risotto at Italian restaurants. The only good experiences I've had of the stuff were in small portions, cooked EXCELLENTLY (think: Anise). As a main, it's just a mouthful of glugginess. I know that carbs are the enemy to a slender body shape but they're the tastiest food group. When I sample something as carb-ladden as risotto that has no taste benefit for me at all, I don't even want to know it. I'm quite certain that Marc only endured it because a) he hates waste and b) he smothered the plate with parmesan.
The service at Il Baretto was fast considering out busy it was. I loved our benchtop spot looking out onto the street. The restaurant is in Surry Hills, a part of Sydney that carries on being lively well into the night so there was plenty to peer at. I found the food to be disappointing, considering how many rave reviews I read. I don't get it. What's the big deal? (Also note: CASH ONLY!)