One of the first Crave dinners we wanted to book in was the progressive dinner ‘Three Piatti, Three Posti’. Unfortunately it sold out really quickly and all we could do was go on the waiting list. Ahh well, we’d just add it to the list with the Hats Off dinners at Guillaume at Bennelong and Est we’d also missed out on. We learnt the hard way and knew we’d have to be quick next year.
Then on the Thursday prior I received a call. There was a cancellation. Were we still interested? I was going to say ‘No thanks, we’ve already eaten out Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, we have dinner on Friday and our last Crave dinner next Monday’. Instead I emailed Dylan, Em and Mr O to see if they were still keen, assuming the answer would be no. Dylan and Em were in. Mr O had other plans and was out. Really?! We’re going to book in yet another dinner? Not really believing it, I phoned back and asked if we could come as a group of three. Next thing I knew all was confirmed and we were booked in for our 5th dinner in 6 days.
Crave Sydney International Food Festival: 121BC, Vini & Berta’s Three Piatti, Three Posti – $100.00 per person including wine
- 121BC Cantina & Enoteca
– Ca’Rugate Fulvio Beo Rosé NV magnum
– Lonza and belfiore crostini
– Tomato consommé buffalo basil oil
– Cozze gratinate radish
– A Vita Ciro Rosso 2008
– Lasagne braised lamb roast eggplant peas rosemary
– Asparagus egg anchovy
– Claudio Alario dolcetto d’Alba Coste Fiore 2009
– Balsamic roasted duck rosemary blood orange
– Braised lentils
– Iceberg horseradish herbs
– Strawberry and balsamic gelato slice
The progressive dinner commenced at 121BC Cantina & Enoteca just off Holt Street in Surry Hills. I’d heard 121BC was small but didn’t realise just how tiny it was until we arrived. A maximum of 25 people can squeeze in, but the size is half the charm of the place. A long bar runs the length of the dark room around which everyone props on high stools. The wine list, which we’re told changes monthly, is written on the blackboard wall behind the bar. Wines are listed by region of Italy they hail from – yes that’s right, only Italian wine at 121BC. I immediately love the place; there is something magical about small bars.
Chef and owner of the Vini/Berta/121BC empire Andrew Cibej and wine guru Giorgio De Maria kick off proceedings with a rundown of the game plan for the evening. We’d be having antipasti at 121BC, ambling around the corner to Vini for pasta and then heading further up the street to Berta for main and dessert.
Ca’Rugate Fulvio Beo Rosé NV magnum.
To kick off the rather balmy evening the bar tenders popped open a few magnums of Ca’Rugate Fulvio Beo Rosé NV. The sparkling rosé is produced from the Italian molinara grape in the north-eastern region of Veneto. It was light, refreshing and a perfect way to start the day. And best of all, our glasses were continuously topped up.
Lonza and belfiore crostini.
The first of three dishes at 121BC was a platter of a cured meat, cheese and toasted bread. Immediately it became apparent that photography was going to be difficult in the dimly lit room. I don’t usually comment on photography because I don’t claim to know what I’m doing, but Dylan and I don’t use flash photography and damn 121BC is dark! So please ignore the photos.
Lonza is an Italian cured meat similar to coppa. The main difference is the cut of meat used to produce the finished product; lonza being the loin and coppa a cut from behind the pig’s head. Shaved paper thin, the lonza was drizzled with olive oil to bring out the rich flavour of the pork. Paired with crunchy crostini and hard sheep’s milk cheese, belfiore, this took me right back to my travels through southern Italy sitting around the table of my friend Josie’s nonna’s house, grazing our way through the afternoon.
Tomato consommé buffalo basil oil.
One of the greatest flavour combinations has got to be tomato, buffalo mozzarella and basil. I wasn’t expecting much when this was brought out but I should have known better, of course the Italians know this flavour combination better than anyone. The consommé was an amazing reduction of some extremely flavoursome tomatoes producing a fresh and strong tomato hit, soothed by the soft mozzarella bobbing around and the light basil oil.
Cozze gratinate radish.
Once we realised that ‘cozze’ were mussels my eyes lit up. I love mussels. And these weren’t just your run of the mill mussels, they were baked with breadcrumbs giving them a whole new character. The gratinate was spot on, the breadcrumbs seemed almost couscous like as they were so perfectly shaped and dense, ensuring the mussels retained their juicy, tender status. I happily finished Em’s portion but could have gone without the radish – a rather unusual transformation with the baking bringing out a sweetness over their natural peppery flavour.
Next stop we were off to Vini, a hop skip and jump around the corner.
Vini is the older sibling of 121BC and Berta, having opened its doors back in 2005. I remember old work colleagues telling me I should go and check it out but I wasn’t a foodie back then, I was a poor traveller who’d just returned from Europe with a pile of credit card debt. As the story goes, years flew by and I’d still never got there… until now.
A Vita Ciro Rosso 2008.
The wine for round two came from the region of Calabria in the very southern end of Italy – the boot. The same province I’d spent some time a few years ago, drinking many bottles of Josie’s family’s home made and very potent red wine. Cirò is found on the Ionian Coast along the north-eastern edge of Calabria. A full bodied, yet easy drinking red that went nicely with the lasagne.
Lasagne braised lamb roast eggplant peas rosemary.
Wow. Lasagne with the most delicate pasta sheets ever made. I don’t think I’ve ever had lamb lasagne before. I’ve definitely had beef, veal and pork, but don’t recall ever having lamb. I’ll say it again, Wow. The lamb was falling apart, meltingly soft. Peas gave a nice bite, eggplant went so well. Light sauce holding it all together but not overpowering the lamb and eggplant. My favourite dish of the night by far.
Asparagus egg anchovy.
Anchovies are one of the greatest little fishies but don’t often get a look in. These were some of the best anchovies I’ve ever had and must have either been fresh or debrined well as they had a milder flavour to many cured anchovies and their natural flavour really shone through. Perfect with the greenery of asparagus and creamy egg.
Polishing off our glass of red at Vini we made our way out front to see the accordionist, aka our walking guide, starting to play some tunes. He led us through the back streets of Surry Hills and up to the southern end of the city, just below Oxford Street.
I don’t think I’d ever have found Berta without a guide. Well it’s definitely not a place you’d just stumble across, it’s in an obscure location in the block between Liverpool/Oxford, Wentworth, Goulburn and Elizabeth Street.
Claudio Alario dolcetto d’Alba Coste Fiore 2009.
Arriving at our final destination we got stuck into the final wine of the night. From the Claudio Alario winery in the north-west region of Piedmont, at first glance I thought the wine was going to be a dessert wine. It turns out ‘dolcetto’ is a variety of Italian red wine grape. It was my least favourite of the evening, quite a fruity and tannic wine, it just wasn’t for me.
Balsamic roasted duck rosemary blood orange.
And the darkness strikes again. At Berta I actually resorted to getting out my mobile phone and using the flash light to try and light the table for Dylan to take some snaps. Won’t harp on about it but Berta is not the right place for non-flash photography!
Duck and orange are a match made in heaven. The duck was roasted nicely with a crispy skin and soft, tender meat. The hints of citrus and rosemary with each bit just made the dish. I don’t think it quite matched the amazing duck from Billy Kwong but nevertheless it disappeared in no time at all. Dylan’s favourite dish of the evening.
Lentils are often shunned upon and thrown into the ‘avoid’ category with anchovies, but they have so much potential. I ate a lot of lentils when I was travelling through southern Italy and when cooked correctly, they are delicious. We collectively thought this was a pleasant side dish, but just didn’t have us diving back in for more.
Iceberg horseradish herbs.
The second side was a light salad to balance the heaviness of the duck and lentils. I somehow avoided most of the dressing and quite enjoyed the lightness of the salad. Dylan spotted this on the menu for $12 which we thought a little steep but perhaps we had a smaller portion?
Strawberry and balsamic gelato slice.
I cringed a little when I saw the ice particles on the gelato slice. While the gelato was a little on the hard side, after a few photos it started to melt and return to its former glory. The top layer was balsamic, the middle strawberry, and the bottom caramel white chocolate. The white chocolate was my favourite however combining the strawberry and balsamic was also pretty epic.
The evening was a brilliant taste of three of Surry Hills’ little gems. The portion sizes were substantial and value for money was definitely there. Em and I loved the procession down the street following the accordionist. And though we were all well and truly ready to fast for the month of November, we’re glad we got the opportunity to attend the progressive dinner and will definitely be heading back to all three soon.
121BC Cantina & Enoteca
4/50 Holt Street (enter via Gladstone St)
Surry Hills NSW 2010
(02) 9699 1582
3/118 Devonshire Street (on Holt St)
Surry Hills NSW 2010
(02) 9698 5131
17-19 Alberta Street
Sydney NSW 2000
(02) 9264 6133
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