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
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|
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|
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|
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|
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|
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.