Monday, July 18, 2011

The rose of The Strand: La Rosa Bar and Pizza

There are shopping centres and then there are shopping centres. From its beginnings in the late 1800s, the Strand Arcade, running from Pitt Street through to George Street, has seen its fair share of Sydney lifestyle.

Take the basement, for example, which has been the site of clubs in the 1900s, which I can only imagine smilingly - today it's a thriving JB Hi-Fi store. As long as I've shopped, exclusive designer stores have lined the historic arcade, and now it seems food is getting its time in The Strand spotlight.

Inside the dining area at La Rosa Bar and Pizza, Level 2, The Strand Arcade,
Pitt Street, Sydney
Sibling to The Strand's existing one-hatted Pendolino restaurant at the George Street end of level 2, La Rosa Bar and Pizza is the less serious but equally stylish of the two at the Pitt Street end.

Facing off against the established and highly acclaimed pasta menu of Pendolino, the more relaxed pizza, baked pasta and aperitivo menu makes lots of sense; not to mention the attraction of drinks and nibbles in such gorgeous surrounds.

I can already envisage me with a glass of wine and perhaps bruschetta, sitting at the long, herb pot-lined bar table of sorts, in front of a large communal table, looking out to the retail shops.

Inside La Rosa Bar and Pizza
Inside the restaurant, there's a variety of seating options: the light filled windows looking out to Pitt Street mall; a darker section on the other side of the cross motif panel with a banquette against the wall; an area that resembles a private dining table; and various bar seats and low tables designed for drinks.

The first impression is that there's a lot going on, especially at peak city lunch time. The staff seem a liitle harried though understandingly given their recent opening. It's a little dark where we are (but not Pendolino, 'oh, is it night time?' kind of dark), and we easily slip into lunch drinking mode.

An unpronounceable Italian sangiovese shiraz is our pick from the wines by the glass, which are far outweighed by the mostly Italian bottle wines. It is an Italian wine bar after all, and with house made salumi, picking a starter to share was easy.

Salumi misti di casa - Mixed house-made cured salami
The generous, long, wooden board sits a little awkwardly between our two round tables, and intially arrived without knowledgeable explanation. Another waitress returns to tell us we have a wild boar sausage, two types of pork salami, a wagyu beef salami and pancetta.

Now, I know how much I adore nduja, so I leave that as my last tasting. The little, whole, unsliced sausage at the top is the Salsicce Mignon di Cinghiale - a fatty, chewy but oddly floral-tasting sausage of 100% wild boar and black pepper.

The smaller but thicker cut pork salami is, I think, the Salsicce Montenuovo Calabrese - salty and sweet with capsicum flavours; while the thinly slice pork one is apparently fennel (though light on that flavour). The wagyu beef salami is actually mixed with pork as well (which explains the rather similar taste) and is flavoured with fennel seeds and garlic.

The Pancetta del Rinascimento has that fatty chewiness that's sometimes hard to swallow, but a nice, mellow taste. The olives are decent, and the small bowl of pickled vegetables even better, with the tart and crunchy cauliflower, carrot and onion cutting through the richness of the cured meats nicely.

And the nduja - I'll be going back for that alone. It sounds a bit strange when you say spreadable salami or pork spread, but that's essentially what it is - and very, very good at that. Bursting with capsicum redness and a chilli kick, the paste is luxuriously smooth with a well-rounded richness; and just beautiful spread liberally on the crostini.

Gamberi e zucchini pizza - King prawns, zucchini, tomato, mozzarella and garlic
I think since I started making my own pizzas at home, I'm more keen than ever to sample pizza when I'm out and about to compare and learn. The expectations were high and for some inexplicable reason I chose the only seafood pizza on the menu (when I normally don't like seafood on pizzas at all).

La Rosa's pizza certainly looked the part: golden, slightly bubbled up edges; nice and thin; perfectly round and gleaming with toppings. As soon as I picked up a slice though, it was apparent that the pizza was suffering from soggy centre syndrome.

So, rather inelegantly, we rolled up the pizza slices to eat, although I guess the provided cutlery would have sufficed too. The pizza was light-handed on tomato sauce and cheese, but made up for with gorgeous grilled zucchini strips and large peeled prawns which could have been made more interesting with a marinade. In all, I'm still not convinced that seafood and pizza go together.

Pomodoro e Pane Secco - Tomato, dried bread and ricotta salad
The highly recommended side salad of tomato and dried bread sounded interesting enough to sway me from my usual rocket order.

A pretty but rustic salad featured gigantic cubes of bread, dried to a near painful crunch - I imagine they would be much easier to chew (especially for delicate ladies) if they were about a quarter of the size.

Not the best tomatoes and the ricotta really sitting pretty rather than contributing to the salad meant I'll probably revert to my rocket order next time.

Lasagne di Carnevale - Neapolitan meat carnival lasagne
One of the only pasta options on the menu with meat, the lasagne arrived in a cast iron pan, oozing cheesy and tomato sauce, and served unexpectedly with a side salad. In hindsight, this made perfect sense given the richness of the lasagne and its creamy bechamel.

The silky soft pasta and the chewy, blackened cheese topping combined with the sweet tomato sauce with minced meat (can't recall exacty what, but presumably a blend) was cheesy carb heaven - happiness in a cast iron pan. We only diverted to the salad out of guilt.

Another glass of sangiovese shiraz later, the restaurant had emptied of its corporate clientele, with mostly shoppers and tourists left to fill up the rather spacious restaurant. Had we more time, I imagine a dessert would have gone nicely with our meal, with the likes of tiramisu, ricotta cake and zeppola - a traditional potato and cinnamon doughnut - on offer.

While not necessarily between two thorns, La Rosa Bar and Pizza is surrounded by style and elegance. It might be a tough sell to get some of The Strand's usual customers to consume cured meats and carbs but I , for one, am looking forward to aperitivo time here.

La Rosa Bar and Pizza on Urbanspoon


Jade said...

Wow great pics. I love the one of the wall where they've peeled away the plaster so you can see the bricks. And that tomato, dried bread and ricotta salad looks pretty damn tasty :-)

chocolatesuze said...

oh man that lasagne looks so deliciously cheesy!

joey@FoodiePop said...

It looks great here, and right smack bang in the centre of the CBD. I agree with Suze the lasagne looks super cheesy and delish!

Dumpling Girl said...

Was there last week, lol but I am guilty of eating my pizza with my knife and fork. I wish that we ordered one of the antipasti platters now, yours looks so good.

Lil said...

Wow the inside decor looks pretty snazzy. Mmm the seafood pizza looks like something I'd love.

Jasmin said...

I've never been a big pizza eater, but like you since I started making it at home, I'm far more eager to try it outside of my own kitchen.

The prawn pizza looks great, I wish I knew how to avoid soggy centre syndrome.

But I love the look of the Lasagna served in the pan. In fact, I'm a sucker for anything served in a pan.

Looks great.

sugarpuffi said...

mixed salami! i always order it at whichever restaurant have it on the menu

Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella said...

We were just talking about going here for lunch one day as I really like Pendolino's!

MissPiggy said...

I can't decide what I want more, the pizza, that awesome looking lasagne or the antipasto all looks great. I love that this place is in The Strand Arcade - it's such a fabulous and fancy building.

gbf said...

looks good & i love a meat board! lovely images & certainly a cosy place to hide & enjoy. dayle

Tina said...

Hi Jade - Yes, that room is lovely while the rest of it can be a bit OTT...

Hi suze - Oh, so good!

Hi joey - Yup, hence the city corporate crowd :)

Hi Dumpling Girl - I would definitely recommend the salumi plate for next time :)

Hi Lil - Seafood pizza is not usually something like a great deal, but this wasn't too bad.

Hi Jasmin - My non soggy centre trick is to use a pizza pan that can go on the stove. After its stint in the oven, I pop it on the stovetop for a while, until I start to smell burning ;) Turns out bubbled, brown and not soggy!

Hi sugarpuffi - Me too, though not sure how healthy (or otherwise) it is... :S

Hi Lorraine - I found it quite different to Pendolino (though I suppose that was the plan...)

Hi MissPiggy - Have it all, like us ;)

Hi gbf - Thanks. The nduja was a total star of the salumi plate :)

mademoiselle délicieuse said...

Love the presentation of the lasagne al forno and, of course, the location. I always feel that little bit more refined when I'm wandering through the Strand =p

Two fit and fun gals said...

i hate soggy centre pizza :( but, i guess its also fun to roll up you rpizza and eat it too! i ADORE pizza hut thin and cripsy, cos thats what it is, THIN and CRISPY! so good :)

ive been meaning to try pendolino as well.. maybe soon! winter is putting abit of weight on me atm lolz

Adrian (Food Rehab) said...

Love the Strand Arcade. It's similar to the Block Arcade over here in Melbourne. So nostalgic.

Ah no, I know what you mean. When it's too soggy, all the ingredients fall right out! LOL

Anonymous said...

that's such a great idea to present the lasagna in a pan like that, otherwise it always looks so unattractive! and I'm the total opposite, I'm less likely to eat the stuff I can make at home, I never get pizza anymore!!

Vivian - vxdollface said...

oooh this is the new Sicilian restaurant at The Strand right? I love the patchy wall, kind of looks like a map silhouette! mm that lasagne looks soooo good!

john@heneedsfood said...

Agreed with the others about the lasagne - it looks incredible!

Keely aka The Richest Girl in Bondi said...

The soggy centre is always the difficulty with seafood pizza - I've yet to eat one that hasn't suffered a little from it's toppings. It's funny that you ordered pizza to compare it with your own - I make sure to only ever order things I find difficult to make in my kitchen! Both theories make sense though.

Tina said...

Hi mademoiselle délicieuse - I feel refined and rather poor at the same time...

Hi Two fit and fun gals - I haven't had Pizza Hut in years, though I do remember liking the thin and crispy.

Hi Adrian - There are a lot like The Strand in Melbourne, aren't there?

Hi minibites - Yeah, there's a lot of love for those cast iron pans... :)

Hi Vivian - Not sure if it's Sicilian as such but the lasagne was perfection.

Hi John - It certainly was that good.

Hi Keely - It seems any kind of pizzas can get soggy centres, but probably especially seafood ones


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