Pimp My Plate #31 – BAR ITALIA, Leichhardt, NSW

PIMP MY PLATE is back in Australia and back to a budget of AUD$19-ish.

This month I’ve been posting a series of three café reviews focused on one particular dish – Spaghetti Bolognese.  See my previous September reviews: Bravo and No Name.

A traditional version of Bolognese sauce includes onion, celery, and carrot, different types of minced or chopped beef, and sometimes small amounts of fatty pork, red wine, tomato concentrate and/or ripe tomatoes.

This week I twirl my fork at an Italian restaurant in Leichhardt. This is the third and last restaurant I’ll be reviewing in my search for that old favourite, Spaghetti Bolognese.

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Bar Italia Restaurant – Ristorante #3

BAR ITALIA opened its doors in 1952. With a sunny façade and its Italian tricolour awning, it sits midway down Norton Street, Sydney’s hub of Italian restaurants and stores.  Nearby is a cake store that features an elaborate and mesmerising cake in its window – designed to celebrate a First Holy Communion – a giant cannolo tied with a blue ribbon.

If you like your coffee Italian-style –strong and full of flavour – this is one of the few places in Sydney you’ll find it.

Ordering at the counter is simple – once you can decide! The blackboard menu is extensive, and inexpensive.

Spaghetti Bolognese is my choice and I don’t even have to check the menu to see if it’s on it.

My order of Spaghetti Bolognese ($15.50), Garlic Bread ($3.50), and a Flat White coffee ($3.50) makes a satisfying and filling meal for $23.00.

Aside from Schnitzels, every option on the blackboard menu meets my usual Pimp My Plate $19 budget. There’s Focaccia and Paninis ($8.50), Pasta, Lamb Shanks ($18.50), Veal ($18.50), Soups ($12.90), Corsica Pizza ($19.50), and Sirloin Steak ($18.50). And they do Vegetarian Lasagne ($15.50).

BAR ITALIA is divided into two sections – the restaurant area, and the gelataria, where you can order a gelato and a coffee and sit at a table to eat it.

You can sit inside the restaurant near the framed Godfather LP record, or outdoors, under a canopy of flowering pink bougainvillea. I sit outside with the breeze occasionally sprinkling my table with petals.

My coffee arrives first, in a traditional red and green Vittoria Coffee porcelain cup. It’s what I call ‘industrial strength’ and that’s just how I like my coffee. And it’s coffee without compromise! There’s no Skim Milk, no Light Milk, and no Soy Milk served here.

My side of garlic bread and bowl of spaghetti arrives and I spy the now familiar powdered parmesan cheese.

The spaghetti is al dente, and the Bolognese sauce is good, if basic. There’s no parsley, no carrot, no celery, but the other two restaurants didn’t include those ingredients in their sauce either.

The garlic bread, a Kaiser roll, is better than most. Even so, I can’t finish eating it. Likewise, the quantity of spaghetti is too generous to finish eating it either.

I feel the need to apologise to the waiter when she comes to clear my table. No one likes food wastage.

In the unlikely event I was to run a marathon, this would be the fuel I’d consume. Instead, I plan a long walk along Norton Street, with a food-for-thought stopover at Berkelouw’s bookstore in lieu of dessert.

BAR ITALIA is the type of Italian café-restaurant we all want and need – in every suburb. It’s nice that the staff speaks Italian; it’s nice that the vibe is so relaxed; and it’s nice that you can eat a meal or just sit and enjoy a scoop of gelato.

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That brings my quest ‘to see how easy it would be to find Spaghetti Bolognese on the menu’ to an end – for now. I’ll leave it for you to decide which restaurant offers the best overall value.

None of the three restaurants cooked a traditional Bolognese sauce – containing carrots, celery, or bacon, and none offered the option of freshly grated parmesan cheese.

With than in mind, I’ll be posting my own recipe for Spaghetti Bolognese tomorrow, that you can cook yourself.

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RATED: Chillaxed and well-fed  FOOD: 3.5/5
VALUE: 4/5   ATMOS: Authentic   VIBE:  Old skool Italian
BAR ITALIA – 169-171 Norton Street, Leichhardt, Sydney, NSW

(Note: cash only, no cards. There is a multi-bank ATM facility on site)

Visit me on facebook at Awia’s Kitchen or twitter: @pimpmyplate   @awiaskitchen

 

 

 

 

 

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Pimp My Plate #30 – TRAMSHEDS, Forest Lodge, NSW

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Like so many other Sydneysiders, I ignored the inkblot sky and threat of rain to visit THE TRAMSHEDS – Sydney’s newest foodie space, housed inside the former Rozelle Tramway Depot, originally built in 1904. 

TRAMSHEDS is being touted as ‘A community of Food and Learning’ and today was their Opening Day – a palpable buzz of hungry shoppers, lots of cameras from phone size to full frame. Store vendors scrambled to keep up with demand while juggling brand new ordering and catering systems, as customers kept filling tables.

On offer is an array of artisan bread, pasta, organic produce, a butcher, and lots of cafes and restaurants. Providores share a large space full of natural light and industrial height ceilings. There are lots of hard surfaces but it’s not noisy.

My take-home bag of goodies to eat later included: a loaf of Sourdough bread ($4.95 which is unheard of in price) and several pastries from Supamart; and a jar of Tasmanian Pickled Octopus ($15) from Fish & Co.

My sit-down Lunch was a plate of Prawn Cakes from FISH & CO. ($21)

A fun day out with lots to eat.

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RATED: Urban edge  FOOD: 4/5
VALUE: 4/5   ATMOS: Industrial chic  VIBE:  Eat, drink, and be merry – esp after finding parking!
TRAMSHEDS – 1 Dalgal Way, Forest Lodge, Sydney, NSW
Open 9am-10pm most days

Pimp My Plate #29 – NO NAME, Darlinghurst, NSW

PIMP MY PLATE is back in Australia and back to a budget of AUD$19-ish.

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This month I’m posting a series of three café reviews focused on one particular dish. Remember that old Italian-Australian favourite Spaghetti Bolognese?

‘Pimp my Bolognese, again!’

In this week’s quest to see if Spaghetti Bolognese has disappeared from Sydney menus, I twirl my fork in one of Darlinghurst’s oldest Italian restaurants.

As I mentioned last week, a traditional version of Bolognese sauce includes onion, celery, and carrot, different types of minced or chopped beef, and sometimes small amounts of fatty pork, red wine, tomato concentrate and/or ripe tomatoes.

This is the second of three plates of Spaghetti Bolognese I’ll be reviewing.

No Name Restaurant – Ristorante #2

It seems like NO NAME restaurant has been in Darlinghurst for …. forever. Decades ago, when I worked in an advertising agency nearby NO NAMES (as we called it) was a regular hangout on Friday afternoons with the tribe.

I remember this restaurant from as far back as the mid-1970s. Even so, I’d have been shocked if Spaghetti Bolognese had disappeared from the menu.

My heart skips a beat …  Yes! It’s still on the menu. ‘Of course it is,’ I reprimand myself.

I order a ‘small’ Garden Salad ($4 – say whaaat?) to accompany my bowl of Spaghetti Bolognese ($10), and with that I get a complimentary side of bread, a glass of cordial, and a glass of water.

‘Parmesan cheese?’

‘Yes,’ I answer without any expectations of fresh Parmesan cheese.

When it first opened, NO NAME began a tradition of offering simple, no-fuss Italian food, with a rustic style.

Not much has changed since in the style of décor or the food, and that’s its charm. The fact that over so many years NO NAME continues to offer basic Italian meals at a price that seems oblivious to inflation is unique. Especially in a large city like Sydney, where change is a constant of this city’s restaurant scene.

If my memory is correct, the only thing missing on my table compared to ‘back then’ are the little glass salt-shaker bottles full of dried chilli flakes. Part of the Friday lunch ceremony was sprinkling copious amounts of chilli flakes over our bowls of spaghetti. In their place is a sea of bright yellow plastic squeeze bottles full of vinegar. What these are for, I’m not sure, and I don’t care to find out.

My bowl of spaghetti arrives and it looks good, and tastes good. There’s no garnish or carrot – no fuss – but I notice a pleasing ratio of sauce to pasta.

This is cheap and cheerful food. It offers flavour and fills you up, and does both at an incredibly good price. So my second experience of Spaghetti Bolognese is filling, no-frills, and enjoyable. And there’s enough sauce.

NO NAME’S blackboard menu features other dishes including, Schnitzels ($15-$24), Scaloppini w Mushrooms (another old favourite), and Osso Buco (both $12), Liver and Onions ($14), and Steak and Onions ($15).

About the name NO NAME – how did it begin?

According to urban legend, the original restaurant sign kept being knocked down by passing rubbish trucks. Faced with having to continually replace the restaurant sign, eventually the restaurant was left with no name – literally.

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After lunch, I head downstairs to Darlinghurst’s other long term resident, THE ARCH, for dessert: a great cup of coffee and a crunchy pistachio biscotti.

My next and final Spaghetti Bolognese encounter is next week.

RATED: No frills  FOOD: 3/5
VALUE: 4.5/5   ATMOS: Minimalist   VIBE:  No-frills fun
NO NAME – 2 Chapel Street, Darlinghurst, Sydney, NSW

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Visit me on facebook at Awia’s Kitchen or twitter: @pimpmyplate   @awiaskitchen

Pimp My Plate #28 – BRAVO, Crows Nest, NSW

PIMP MY PLATE is back in Australia and back to a budget of AUD$19-ish.

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This month I’m posting a series of three café reviews focused on one particular dish. Remember that old Italian-Australian favourite Spaghetti Bolognese?

‘Pimp my Bolognese!’

Spaghetti – do you swirl it, scoop it, or slurp it?

In Italian cuisine Bolognese sauce is used to dress tagliatelle al ragù and to prepare lasagne. Or other broad, flat pasta shapes like pappardelle or fettuccine. In Australia, however, the sauce is synonymous with spaghetti.

How do you feel about those two words: Spaghetti Bolognese? Can you remember the days when every Italian restaurant table in Australia wore a red checked tablecloth, and an empty wax-covered Chianti bottle sat on top of it? Or maybe you’ve parked that dish too far back in your memory?

Or maybe you’ve never even seen it on a menu?!

In Italian cuisine Bolognese sauce is known as ragù alla Bolognese, a meat-based sauce originating from, you guessed it, Bologna, in Italy.

A traditional version of the sauce includes onion, celery, and carrot, different types of minced or chopped beef, and sometimes small amounts of fatty pork, red wine, tomato concentrate and/or ripe tomatoes.

Most Italian restaurants in Australia have now replaced red checked tablecloths with crisp white ones, or smooth wooden tabletops. Bottles of Chianti are stocked behind the bar unless you BYO – Australian vernacular for ‘Bring Your Own’.

In 2016 has Spaghetti Bolognese disappeared from menus altogether? My quest is to find out.

I’ll be reviewing three plates of Spaghetti Bolognese from three different restaurants, over three weeks. Each week I’ll post a review, and it’s up to you to choose which version you’d prefer to eat.

Let’s begin.

Bravo Trattoria – Ristorante #1

Over the years BRAVO has changed its menu, and its location. The ‘old’ BRAVO, situated in busy Falcon Street, opened in 1995. Its front counter was THE go-to for true Italian gelato, and people – including me – would travel distances to eat it.

The restaurant section featured a mural of Italian figures sitting, relaxing, playing guitar. Above them was a hand-painted list of the 101 different sauces you could order with your pasta.

Tragic circumstances closed the restaurant for several years, then BRAVO reopened ‘around the corner’ in 2013 in a newly fitted out space, offering an upmarket menu, and a new lease on life – ‘Bravo!’

Today is Saturday and the restaurant is full of diners eating lunch, but I only have to wait a few minutes. I take a seat and check the blackboard, scrolling past Risotto Calamari with peas and ricotta ($24.90), and Beef Ribs w cauliflower puree and cavolo nero ($34.90).

I spy Spaghetti Bolognese ($19.90) on the printed menu and order it, while my dining companion orders the risotto.

Also on the blackboard menu is BRAVO’s special dish, Spaghetti Amatriciana Guanciali ($24.90). My waitress explains that BRAVO is donating a percentage of the meal price to aid victims of the recent earthquake in Amatrice, Italy. Bravo! BRAVO.

I plunge my fork into my friend’s risotto for a taste, and it’s good. Now to focus on my spaghetti!

I pick up my fork and spoon – I’m a twirler. But first I tease the spaghetti, to distribute the Bolognese sauce through it.

The waitress places a small bottle of Parmesan cheese powder on the table, and I ask if they have any fresh Parmesan to grate over my plate. They don’t have it, I’m told. I’m a little stunned that any Italian restaurant would not have fresh Parmesan cheese on the premises, and I suddenly feel like I’ve been transported back to the 1970s. I can almost understand why a restaurant might prefer not to offer expensive cheese with a cheaper basic meal… Wait a minute, no I can’t! But to not have any in the restaurant AT ALL?

The spaghetti is al dente as you’d expect, or how I would describe it – springy, with an enjoyable bite and just how I like it. However the sauce disappeared into the nest of pasta almost immediately.

The amount of pasta is generous, but my eyes are asking for more sauce, or more ragu. There’s no evidence of carrot or celery in this sauce but it does have flavour. Are there onions? I can’t tell.

It’s a filling meal but I’m left wanting more ….  sauce. Several gratings of fresh cheese would have lifted this dish to another level  … of both taste, and passion.

So my first experience of Spaghetti Bolognese is a little disappointing.

Dessert however is a different story – ‘delizioso’!

The Sicilian Cannoli ($5.70 each piece) with pistachio nuts is rocking my taste buds. My cannolo is filled with a lemon-scented custard that is light, delicious, and not too sweet. A single piece of cannoli is called cannolo which means, ‘little tube’.

As a side note: my companion rated his Risotto Calamari 3.5 out of 5.

‘Grazie per il pasto.’

What will I discover next week?

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RATED: Fresh Parmesan cheese please!  FOOD: 3/5
VALUE: 4/5   ATMOS: 3.5/5   VIBE:  Always friendly and consistent
BRAVO TRATTORIA  59 Willoughby Rd, Crows Nest NSW