Let me start off by saying that I'm not really the person for loud, rowdy restaurants where people are bellowing across the floor at each other, no matter how good naturedly it may be. Witness my discomfort at the Italian Bowl. So when I'm told that Bertoni's in Balmain is a home style Italian cafe I'm a little nervous at the idea of a repeat Italian Bowl episode. I'm comforted by Bertoni's being voted Sydney's Favourite Cafe in the SMH Good Food Guide and NSW's Best Cafe in Delicious. I also notice that they have a branch at Mosman which I've failed to notice completely.
It's Balmain Rozelle's Food Week and some establishments are having more luck than other fulfiling their programs. Indeed, I went to Victoire on Friday to be told that everything had sold out except for the pissaladiere and when I went to the church on Sunday for their afternoon tea, there was not a single soul there so we figured they must have called it off. A tad inconvenient for those of us that have traveled for the experience grumble grumble.
We walked past Bertoni's on Friday and it was packed to the rafters with a line and people on milk crates outside and a long communal table balancing a crowd with elbows touching. And on this Sunday there was a huge crowd too. But after a little boutique browsing we walk back past there and the whole communal table has cleared. Ahhh luck! We grab a seat as fast as we can and I go to the counter to order. There is a special deal on for Food Week with a special panini filled with Italian sausage, cheese, caponota and topped with spicy sausage along with a coffee for $10. I order that with Bert or is it Tony? In any case, he's a very genial and friendly guy who just oozes genuine Italian charm. Not over the top but just sincerely lovely. I ask what else is good and he goes through the pasta selection with me which features beef tortellini with ragu, ravioli with pumpkin and cheese and baby spinach leaves, meatballs and penne. Unfortunately they're out of the Osso Buco, one of my favourite items and an absolute steal at $10 with a side.
I ask about the sweets and he tells me that they're bought in as they tried to make them themselves but found that they just weren't as good as the ones that they bought in from the Italian company who had been making Italian sweets for 50 years and I like his honesty. However all of the sauces and pastas are made in the kitchen in the back by their mother and they also sell their bottled sauces like the Sugo del Giardino made for generations, as well as EVO Olio Di Campagna, Balsamic Del Modeno, pasta, crostini and coffee.
Our coffee arrives and it's fantastic, strong but well rounded in flavour. My husband particularly likes the coffee. Our special Panini arrives next in a paper boat looking like a hot dog with everything but of course tasting much better. It's a soft white long panini roll filled with melted cheese at the bottom and 2 Italian sausages fragrant with fennel, garlic and chili. On top of this is the most gorgeously soft caponata, devoid of that vinegary taste that some have, just the softest most delicious eggplant and capsicum and on top of that are small but copious twigs of salami. I sink my teeth in and am instantly rewarded with sunshine and bliss.
We're waiting for about 10 minutes for our pasta and by now, the girl next to us who entered after we did has hers. I enquire with our friendly waitress (it seems everyone here is uniformly lovely) and we are issued with a replacement at a larger size with bread.
The spaghetti and meatballs arrives in a black plastic takeaway container (we were warned that there were no plates here) and features 6 beef meatballs on top of a tangle of lightly tomato coated spaghetti. I like the meatballs, they're soft and flavoursome but the spaghetti isn't as al dente as I'd like and I do like a lot of sauce. My husband doesn't seem bothered, he finishes it all.
When we leave, there's still a huge queue waiting for coffee, pasta and our table so we make haste and leave where our spots are instantly snatched up. It's that popular you see.
281 Darling St Balmain 2041
Tel: +61 (02) 9818 5845
Open 7 days