Monday, July 28, 2014

Step up to La Scala on Jersey

Italian for "the stairs", a flight of stairs is indeed what faces diners heading to La Scala on Jersey, set in a spacious floor above the Light Brigade Hotel in Paddington.

Recent changes to the modern Italian restaurant have seen chef Massimo Mele (ex Hugo's, often seen partnering with Salt Meats Cheese) take over the kitchen and offer a more relaxed, authentic Italian experience.

Bar at La Scala on Jersey, Jersey Road, Woollahra
During the week this end of Paddington undoubtedly has a neighbourhood feel, albeit a posh one, and the refreshed look and feel of La Scala seems right at home with the dining families and small groups, both young and old.

Cocktails at the bright, botanical-themed bar are a good place to start after the hike upstairs, especially with a cocktail list put together by drinks consultant Julian Serna (currently at Eau de Vie Apothecary, formerly The Morrison and The Fern).

Cocktails at the bar: Regal Rogue Rosso (left) and He's in the Garden (right)
The bar top is adorned with fresh fruit and juices while the cocktail list is modern, fruity and tempting all round. The tall Australiano apéritif-style cocktail comprised the local Regal Rogue Rosso vermouth with Campari, grapefruit bitters and a not-too-sweet, house-made creaming soda.

Not on the menu but sold convincingly to me by the bartender was the He's in the Garden - a savoury take on a classic Tom Collins. With Hendricks gin, lemon juice, a slice of cucumber and soda, the cocktail was topped with salt which could be stirred into the drink to taste. With its salted gin botanicals it hinted at a softer and highly drinkable version of a dirty martini with its olive brine.

Dining space
We moved to the dining space for dinner, all dark wood and Bentwood chairs on wooden floorboards; seated with views of the open kitchen as well as the yellow street light-bathed street below.

Long table
Closer to the entrance there's a darker room with a long table to seat 26 diners or to be used as a private dining room. There's no shortage of space at La Scale, and that's before adding the upstairs bathrooms and powder room.

Black Russian, cherry tomatoes, buffalo mozzarella, capers, basil, balsamic
We were enamoured by the two weekly specials from a streamlined menu of share plates to start, mains and side dishes.

La Scala's take on classic insalata caprese makes some unexpected additions and improvements even. Creamy buffalo mozzarella came torn over Black Russian and cherry tomatoes; both exceptionally sweet and ripe.

Balsamic vinegar brought new perspective to the Caprese salad while capers added saltiness to the mozzarella which sadly never tastes as good as when in Italy.

Wagyu beef carpaccio with truffled egg, rocket
Another special, the carpaccio of wagyu beef was drizzled heavily with a mayonnaise-like dressing and grated parmesan cheese, topped with a golden-crumbed egg.

The dressing seemed a little overpowering on the thin slices of raw beef but when eaten together with the gooey yolk of the boiled truffle-scented egg, it all made perfect, delicious sense.

Butterflied king prawns, oregano, chilli, lemon
From the share plates menu we couldn't resist the split grilled prawns dressed with oregano, a touch of chilli and fresh lemon juice.

Fantastically large and fairly meaty specimens, the prawn's crisp legs and shells could have been eaten too while the oregano made for an appetising match to the set of crustaceans.

Strozzapreti, oxtail ragu, pecorino, gremolata
For mains, I had to try one of the house-made pastas and with both strozzapreti and ragu being some of my favourite pasta types and sauces respectively, it had to be the dish featuring oxtail.

This strozzapreti was bit like long spiral pasta with shreds of oxtail meat in an unexpectedly light ragu sauce, topped with grated pecorino cheese and refreshing gremolata of parsley and lemon zest.

It went quite well with the reservedly fruity 2010 Scagliola "Busiord" dolcetto from the Piedmont region of Italy, listed under 'Old World Reds' in the wine list and selected with a bit of help from the waitstaff.

Grilled organic spatchcock, olives, lemon, prosciutto, broccolini rapini
I was glad that the mains were served to share because the spatchcock dish was impressively large, featuring a whole butterflied and grilled bird. The charred skin and herb dressing on the spatchcock enhanced the beautifully juicy flesh within, making it worthwhile to suck the bones clean.

Beneath the bird was an interesting array of supporting ingredients including silky prosciutto, salty olive segments, a bright green herb sauce and wilted leaves of lemony broccoli rabe that provided every bite of spatchcock with a different highlight.

Witlof, radicchio, pickled beetroot, candied walnuts, sour cherries, goats curd
Our mains were supplemented with an elaborate side salad of bitter witlof and radicchio paired with baby beetroot segments, sweet candied walnuts and cherries, and hidden beneath it all, creamy and tangy goat's curd.

Polenta chips, parmesan and truffle aioli
And we couldn't help but order the polenta chips too, and thank goodness we did as they may well be some of the best I've ever had.

Finished with parmesan cheese and served with a truffle-flavoured aioli, the crispness of the polenta chips with hot, light and fluffy insides made me reach for one after another and momentarily forget how full I was getting.

Tiramisu "modo mio" (left) and gelato (right)
But we couldn't leave without trying dessert; both our ordered options of which were thankfully on the petite end of the scale. The tiramisu "modo mio", presumably chef Mele's way, was served layered in a tall shot glass with chocolate mousse amid mascarpone and coffee-soaked sponge which had a good kick.

The gelato option proffered three scoops: chocolate, fig and raspberry with the latter being the refreshing highlight while the chocolate was a lovely and rich finish.

While chef Mele's menu is clearly Italian, there's a modern sensibility to it that is light and fresh yet unpretentious; making you want to eat it over and over again. Meanwhile, the upstairs restaurant space is simply fabulous: airy yet intimate, cosy and classy, and a place you're happy to linger over coffee or digestifs.

As we went to descend la scala, it seemed clear that the Paddington and Woollahra end of Oxford Street are stepping up the dining game to an approachable yet refined offering for locals and food lovers alike - and that's worth taking the stairs for.

Food, Booze & Shoes dined at La Scala on Jersey with credit, thanks to Agency G.

La Scala on Jersey on Urbanspoon


Chris @ MAB vs Food said...

All the food looks great! I love polenta chips! I bet the truffle aoli would have been tasty too :)

Hendy said...

Another one to add to the to-do list, all the dishes look yum. How was the golden crumbed egg? was it like a scotch egg?

Loved the sound of the strozzapreti too!!!

Anonymous said...

I've been wanting to come here since Massimo took over the kitchen - looks great

Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella said...

I so enjoyed the pasta that he showed me how to make! I must go back to try more of the food :)

Tina said...

Hi Chris - Yeah, they were awesome; a must-order if you do visit.

Hey Hendy - The egg was great; oozey in the middle and truffle scented! Like a scotch egg without the meat around it, I suppose...?

Hi napolirestaurantalert - It was my first visit and a great first impression :)

Hi Lorraine - Yeah, a nice varied menu they've got. Hard to go past fresh pasta though...


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