Word association time. When I say “tapas”, what’s the first thing that pops into your mind? If you answered, “bar-hopping in Seville and getting maggotted on sherry and little things involving anchovies”, you’re better-travelled than I. Because for myself, when I hear the word “tapas”, I think “a rip-off dining trend that peaked a few years ago which clever restaurant managers cover to charge $20 for three slices of ham.” So when it was suggested by our friend WB that we head out for after-works and get a little Italian tapas the other night, it was with a little trepidation: would this be an expensive but unfulfilling night out?
Our destination was the enoteca, or “wine library”, 121 BC just off Holt Street, around the corner from the News Ltd where the Prick once did a couple of years hard labour for his sins. It’s part of the mini-Italian empire that also comprises Vini and Bertha, and is very much in the small-bar mold: having just come from Melbourne, it was also just the thing to cure the bends as we re-acclimated to Sydney.
So what’s the deal? Long communal table, which normally annoys a Prick but which works in this case. Tiny kitchen at the end – I’ve seen bigger yacht galleys – through which you have to go to hit the head. Menu written in chalk on the wall. Oh, and a massive corridor of beautiful Italian wine, which instantly puts in the running for “happiest place on Earth”. (The place doubles as a bottle shop, and they know their stuff. Pick what you like and they’ll put it on the table with just $15 corkage, far better than any restaurant mark-up.)
The food? Small, casual, good. No photos as I lost the flash on my HTC. They cure their own olives, and they are stunning and soft and fleshy. Chicken liver parfait was luridly red and lovely. Wagyu bresaola was great, but how can you screw that up if you have a decent smallgoods provider? (We noted how few dishes need actual “firing”, a concession to the kitchen arrangement, surely.) Confit mackerel was buttery tender, but our feeling was that it needed some shavings of fennel to wake it up, rather than the thin disks of radish added to make it “pretty”. A duck Maryland had a great glaze, but was let down by toughness and the difficulty presented trying to share the thing. The pork ribs I wanted to love, and were nice, but they were not “deliciously tender, succulent and incredibly tasty” as some critics have called them. Might have been an off-night.
Nevertheless, it’s a great spot. Fun, light, and with a very engaged and engaging staff that knows their stuff. Our waitress told us the food changes daily, which is incentive to try it again. The wines alone will have me back: For $45 + corkage we shared a bottle of a big, bold, Friuli that had that wonderful aromatic, tobacco-ey complexity I love in many Italian whites. All in all, worse places to spend a Wednesday evening with good company when you don’t want to break the bank.