One of my favourite ever books is the very controversial American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis. Sure it's not a book for everyone and whilst I didn't enjoy the squeamish, darkly murderous parts I really enjoyed his take on modern day looks and appearance obsessed "Masters of the Universe" (and yes I do know people kind of like him). One chapter that I remember vividly was when the main character Patrick Bateman tried to get a booking at an impossible to get a booking at restaurant. He rings the restaurant and when he asks for a reservation the only response he gets is mockingly condescending laughter and then a "click" as they hang up on him.
Ever since then, I've wondered if I would ever get that reaction when trying to make a booking. As what I do involves a lot of eating out at a lot of "hot" places I've feared encountering this. One of the latest places in town and a place that is very hard to get a table at is Soffritto in Newtown. Given rave reviews by many including friends, I was apprehensive when I first rang, worried that I'd get the attitude. You know the attitude that popular places get (well they do in Sydney anyway). The kind of attitude where they tell you that no they are fully booked "for like...forever" and if you're lucky you might dine there one day. I was actually surprised and pleased to hear the voice on the other end of the phone was friendly and without attitude and actually seemed apologetic about the long waiting queue. Good lord, had hell frozen over? Well it was Winter so perhaps it had...
A soffritto literally is a roughly chopped mixture of vegetables (onion, carrot and celery), garlic and herbs that forms the base for sauces, stocks and stews. The best way to get a booking here (and yes you do need to book pretty much any night) is to go on a Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday where they also have a dining special. For the very reasonable price of $20 you get a bowl of entree sized hand made pasta (a choice of two) and a glass of wine. It's also a good night to dine out as we can imagine noise levels here can be quite loud on a Friday or Saturday night. There is also a 3 course for $49 or a 5 course degustation for $70 available.
We are given some bread and olive oil to nibble on but if I can offer any advice it's this: hang onto your bread so that you can dip it in the sauces (or eat it and they'll kindly bring you some more). As soon as this is set down in front of me the aroma gets me-I'm bewitched. I'm twitching and squirming in my seat as Mr NQN takes photos. I finally get a taste of this and the gnocchi is beautifully light. None of this heavy, gluggy potato water mess that can be served up. And the sauce with the truffle paste in the centre is perfection. It's rich with reggiano and creamy. Holy heavens it's moreish (and don't even think about calculating the calories!).
The tortellini has five pieces of tortellini filled with soft, dark duck meat and balsamic vinegar with a sage and nutty browned butter sauce. It's also delightful and well balanced in flavours only pipped slightly by the gnocchi.
The pasta specials of the day were a linguine with clams or pappardelle with a ragu. I find it hard to resist pappardelle and ragu (when the ragu is the really nice slow cooked stuff not just the mince) . So even though I love clams too, this is always going to be my first choice. It's sizeable too for an entree size and the ragu is rich in tomato and beef juices from tender slow cooking. The pasta is fine and delicate in texture and suits the thick cut ribbons. Mr NQN enjoys the cab sauvignon which is from Margaret River.
I'm on a bit of a pasta high so the roast fillet of beef is a nice change. It's slightly chewy at one en where it is cooked all the way through but in the centre it is medium rare and tender. It's stuffed with mushrooms, rolled and wrapped in pancetta and served with creamy mashed potato and lightly cooked garlic spinach.
I should also mention that service throughout the night is fantastic and even though there are only two floor staff, our water bottle is regularly replaced and they take plenty of time to make recommendations.
I can't really fit in any more but an apple and quince tart can easily convince me otherwise. It comes out on a short buttery pastry round with lovely slightly glazed rubied quince and apple with a cinnamon ice cream which could perhaps be a little creamier. I steal the apple pieces from the top and the pastry and Mr NQN takes the quince and ice cream. Fair trade I'd say.
So tell me Dear Reader, do you try and go out to restaurants that are hot and of the moment or do you wait until things calm down and they're easier to book?
367 King Street, Newtown, NSW
Tel: +61 (02) 9565 4660
Open Tuesday to Saturday 6pm until late