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An inner-city Italian with the trappings of a high end diner secretly specialises in the comfort classics you know and love
Demand for better dining options within a reasonable (let’s say under 15 minute) walk from the Sydney Opera House is as consistent as the tides, and so it makes perfect sense that the Rockpool group would an pick an elevated spot in the Grosvenor Place building as the site for the Sydney edition of Neil Perry’s Italian dining room, Rosetta.
It’s not quite as olde-worlde glamour as its sister venue in Melbourne, walking that fine line between a beautiful room that makes dinner feel like a special occasion, but serving familiar Euro gear like a pappardelle ragù, calamari fritti and platters of cured meats.
And here is the first point of incongruence of Rosetta: the prices are noticeably high, especially for a city in the grip of a full resurgence of classic Italian from the likes of Sotto Sopra, Bacco, Matteo, Marta and a redux Fratelli Paradiso.
People are better versed in the pasta economy than other dining styles, and so the $32 agnolotti dal plin might give someone pause. Don’t get us wrong: those finicky, fairy-sized bites of fresh pasta stretched around a farmhouse rubble of rabbit, veal and pork mince in melted butter are a testament to the dexterity of the hands that made them. But it’s also a rustic, generous dish leaning heavily on two flavours so your palate might tire before you’re done. They’re also not skimping you on the hyper-fresh plate of shaved raw zucchini and yellow squash pitted with almonds and olives and frosted with grated pecorino.
The real problem comes down to portion guidance – something which a lot of venues struggle with. That “you’re too skinny, mangia mangia” attitude is nice in theory, but in practice diners rely on the waitstaff’s advice because only they know that the parmesan-crumbed Torello rose veal cotoletta is going to arrive as a platter-sized serving of juicy, crumbed veal in a perfect shade of Adonis bronze. It’s delicious, but also a daunting prospect if you’ve already hit antipasti and pasta on your way to mains. Plus, if you’re shelling out $52 for the plate, you want to know you’ll have the real estate to accommodate it.
The wine list won’t help stem the flow of cash, either. While cocktails fall within normal Sydney bounds, wines by the glass are more often over $20 a pour than under. Stick to the $15 Casa D’Ambra savoury white with a sharp minerality from a little island off the coast of Naples to try and rein in the money fall.
The spacious dining room feels like the right amount of regal for this end of town, with its huge curved glass windows, brass lamps and blue velvet chairs that leave a proper comfort zone between you and the next table. But while the design and wine list all project ‘fine dining’, the classic Italiano on your plate feels more familiar. The secret to Rosetta is to chuck in the sharing philosophy and treat yourself to a ritzy plate of pasta. That way satisfaction lies.
118 Harrington St
|Opening hours:||Mon-Sat noon-3pm, 6-11pm; Sun noon-3pm, 6-10pm|