Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Above the table

So apparently wisdom does come with age. Well, sometimes. And some bits of wisdom. It's all very randomly selective. One wonderous thing is the realisation and acceptance that you can't rely on anything, including history and oneself. It's rather liberating to realise and just accept that life can, and will, do strange things regardless of deliberate planning and intentions.

It's well and truly birthday season in my circles which translates to many a drink, dinner and new outfit - well, at least one of the latter. On a freezing winter's night in sleeveless silk that designers insist are made for winter, I'm running late (as ever - a quarter of a century has taught me nothing) for dinner at A Tavola - not good, but I can't rely on me to change bad habits, can I?

Rosemary and chilli focaccia from A Tavola,
Victoria Street, Darlinghurst

Joining our waiting table in the courtyard, we start on spot-hitting fresh and fluffy focaccia baked with rosemary and chilli. It's served with a delightful chilli-infused olive oil that has all the flavour but none of the chilli kick as we deduce from the menu and chalk board of chef recommendations.

Specials board

My Italian simply isn't up to scratch anymore so the table is collectively happy to hear from the waitress as opposed to my "Tuna cooked... somehow with... something," or "Duck in oil with little cabbage and... something". Each detailed recount of the specials, especially the mains, is met with the low murmurs, wide eyes and subtle nods of excitable appetites.

Monte Antico red blend from Tuscany

The exclusively Italian wine list presents options from the north to south, with a focus on reds. This amiable blend of sangiovese, merlot and cabernet sauvignon is light on the palate with enough acidity and personality to cut through some of the richer dishes.

It's mains and salads to share for our limited timeframe, but thankfully so given the seriously generous sizing of both the salads and pasta mains.

Pappardelle con maiale e balsamico

I can't go past the house made pappardelle, which I'd seen hanging by the kitchen on my way through to the back courtyard, and I'm justly rewarded by my loyalty to the pasta ribbons. A generous serve of the silky sheets comes with pork shoulder braised to fall-apart. The demure tomato based sauce is full of heart and winter comfort with spinach and possibly cavalo nero adding their vegetable voices to the hearty yet delicate dish.

Gnocchi di patate con Anguilla e porri

The gnocchi hogs the spotlight, despite looking quite the unassuming dish of potato dumplings. A quick heist reveals the dreamiest mouthful ever; the gnocchi ethereally and meltingly light, only brought back to earth by the rich and creamy butter and leek sauce.

Orecchiette con fegato di pollo

The orecchiette wasn't on the normal nor specials menu but had some intrigrued with its promise of chicken livers. The 'little ears' were inedibly hard on their first appearance but a firm al dente after a few minutes' kitchen revisit, and the dish declared a winner thereafter.

Anatra ott'olio con cavolino di Bruxelle

The duck confit was the other contender for my choice, and I had a quick sample of the meat which was tender but a smidgen too salty for tastes. It was served with brussel sprouts and a sauce involving chestnuts, which may have balanced the saltiness.

Buffalo mozzarella, rocket, vine ripened tomato, prosciutto

This huge and vibrant salad is definitely made with a few of my favourite things. Coming across with a very communal feel, I don't know whether to start with the blushing strips of prosciutto or if I should surreptitiously start hoarding the chunks of mozzarella. It's definitely one of the better, more flavoursome buffalo mozzarella I've had in Australia and simply heavenly with a sweet cherry tomato.

Red cabbage, raisins, dolce latte, walnuts, balsamic

The red cabbage salad is a surprisingly stunning salad too; not as sexy as the mozzarella but what it lacks in looks, it makes up in taste. The julienned cabbage is perhaps lightly blanched, having a perfectly crisp but not raw texture. Doused in olive oil and caramelised balsamic vinegar, it nests whole walnuts, raisins and a mystifying absence of the promised blue cheese. That's until the blue cheese enthusiast somehow unearths a motherload of dolcelatte at the bottom of the cabbage pile, and proceeds to eat it all. So much for communal.

The back courtyard has now filled and become unexpectedly loud. We're expecting to be booted out at any moment (we were pre-warned) and so forgo desserts in favour for other sins just over the road at one of my all time favourite bars.

Cocktail queue at the bar at The Victoria Room, Victoria Street, Darlinghurst

It is all about the cocktails at The Victoria Room. Okay, and a little about the plush lounges, stunning lamp collection and pretending that you're some sort of British royalty back in the day. But their cocktails are oh-so-pretty, yummy and just the thing to make you forget any niggling issues about getting older or unreliability.

Awaiting garnishes

The Victoria Room's cocktail list is worthy of study; page upon page of unique yet not crazily out of this world concoctions, with the sneaky non-alcoholic drink too.

Cocktail mise en place

Cocktails at The Victoria Room

The rest of the evening is cocktail-fuelled and not well documented. I recall that the Old Istanbull Iced Tea comes with cucumber slices and is not so much refreshing as odd, with a big hit of gin. It's the gained wisdom of 25 years that results in departure at a civil hour, not an extraordinarily painful or late awakening the next morning and a not hazy recollection of the night. Older and wiser indeed.

A Tavola on Urbanspoon

The Victoria Room on Urbanspoon

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