Balla – Pyrmont, Sydney

Balla Interior1I have so often heard it said that your enjoyment (or not) of a dining experience is predetermined or at the very least enhanced or tainted by your mood, company, the occasion, etc., etc. I used to agree. Until I dined at Balla. My day was shocking. My week had been worse. I virtually ran to the restaurant (in heels) to make my booking, because the cabbie decided the distance wasn’t worth the fare and roared away, leaving me kerbside in the cold.

I’ve said this before, but as a solo female business traveller I always appreciate the ease with which some restaurants welcome the single diner. In Balla’s case, not only was my reception devoid of the raised eyebrow and loaded “table-for-one?”, it was warm, instant and genuine.

This popular and well rated restaurant offers outstanding service and exceptional food but lacks the pretention that you might expect from other similarly classed establishments. The menu is perfectly Italian, sublimely balanced with classic, modern and local influences.

Balla Squid Ink Pasta Spanner CrabI started with the instantly proffered Prosecco and ordered the squid ink tagliolini with spanner crab, broccolini, chilli and garlic. I don’t know what made me do it – I never imagined I’d eat something nature created as a deterrent. Perhaps it was a premonition that if I was ever going to try it, Stefano Manfredi – with 30 years of excellence under his hat (4 of them over the years, mind you) – would be the restaurateur to deliver it. I wasn’t wrong. The squid ink is the hero of this perfectly al dente pasta, although it doesn’t override the moist delicacy of the spanner crab, the light crunch of broccoli and hint of chilli.

Balla VenisonI love a restaurant that offers venison – better yet when it comes nestled on soft polenta, slightly gnarly mushrooms and is itself delicately charred with peppery sweetness. I paired this with a glass of Brangero Nebbiolo 2009 from Alba, Italy and couldn’t have been happier. It wielded a touch of spice, vanilla, perfect length and just enough tannin to hold its own and complement the dish. Balla Cheese BoardSo good in fact that I opted for the truffled pecorino and another glass, in lieu of dessert. A mite too much of the truffle for my taste, but a great finish to an almost perfect food experience regardless.

4Fourteen – Surry Hills, Sydney

130722 4FourteenI adore Surry Hills. It’s that little part of Sydney that reminds me of the best parts of Europe (and Melbourne) that have you strolling down paths of history rather than streets. No matter what pops up here … the latest bistro, bar, boutique or organic market store … it beats with that truly eccentric pulse that only few places inherently lay claim to and many others spend copious amounts of money trying to recreate.

130722 4Fourteen Bar

As much at home and with deserved conceit is 4Fourteen. For those who watched the last series of My Kitchen Rules and developed the same grudging admiration for Colin Fassnidge as I did, one bite of his ham hock croquette would qualify your belief and the contestants’ worst fear – he knows what he’s talking about. Add a dollop of mustard creme fraiche and he becomes as lovely as his Irish lilt.

130722 Dory

This is a sharing restaurant and I highly recommend going with a friend. The entrees are singularly offered to encourage a smorgasbord of personally selected delights. If you make it to the mains, they are generous.

We tried the mirror dory and leather jacket with citrus fennel stew.  Restaurant quality with home-cooked goodness. Think melt-in-your-mouth poached dory, textured and almost wildly Spanish-flavoured leather jacket, silky pearl couscous, just crunchy broccolini and the most perfectly sublime broth  – with a couple of heavenly clams for decadence.

Then there’s dessert. Which I don’t normally eat. But I was intrigued by “The Bounty”. This is not a ship … but it could sink one. Or inspire Captains and Pirates to fight to the death for the joy of eating one. Think bounty bar – whipped into the puffed perfection of a chocolate mousse, little dollops of coconut ice-cream dusted with cocoa, slivers of toasted coconut and crisp almost-salty tuiles.130722 Bounty

This is one of the few restaurants that I will without doubt go back to again and again. Even if I have to go it alone. Against my own advice.  Eat it all myself. And work my way through the entire menu. Every season.