By Franz Scheurer
Darren Simpson and Andrea Mellas’ new venture, La Sala, is a recipe for success.
The venue is simply gorgeous and very comfortable. The subterranean dining room is full of dark, chocolaty tones with warm lighting from really funky chandeliers. There’s lots of clean chrome around an open kitchen, even an open storage room and prep area, and the modern street-level bar follows the warm tones of the dining room, as does the upstairs private dining room.
The food is Italian with flair. Darren is a master at producing deceptively simple dishes to perfection; food I want to eat.
There is a bar menu with exciting, affordable dishes. The amuse gueule of ‘Date fritti: deep-fried dates, pancetta, almonds and celery seed’ from that menu is a great, succulent morsel, just right to get the saliva flowing.
The ‘Carpaccio Cipriani: the one & only’ ($17) is sublime, the ‘Whitebait and potato pancake, crème fraîche, caviar & chives’ ($19), full-flavoured and so light I’m surprised it doesn’t float off the plate, and the ‘Mozzarella di bufala, pounded raw broad beans, mint, basil & pecorino’ ($19) served with perfectly toasted sourdough, is rustic, textured and substantial. For mains we tried the ‘Ribollita: Tuscan soup of vegetables, tomatoes, beans, basil & olive oil’ ($12) and the ‘Scampi alla griglia’ ($39) grilled New Zealand scampi with parsley, garlic and almond butter. A hearty soup is a terrific winter dish and the Ribollita would certainly qualify as hearty, however we found it just as delicious in spring, and the scampi were sensational. I loved the parsley, garlic and almond butter, which also contains shallots, lemon juice, Pernod, and Worcestershire sauce. We shared a ‘Panna cotta with raspberries & grappa’ ($15) for dessert and although more of a blanc mange than a panna cotta, it wobbled with the best of them.
The wine list is short, concise and appropriate. A fair number of good Italian wines, a great selection of ‘not too boutique’ Australian wines and I can tell you that the 2003 Redesdale Estate Cabernets ($78) absolutely sang with the antipasti we ordered.
The service is knowledgeable, friendly and efficient. Value for money is excellent and the enjoyment factor is high. My only gripe: the tables for 2 are a little small.
For more information or bookings:
Ground Floor, 23 Foster Street
Surry Hills NSW 2010
Tel.: 02 9281 3352