Ok Sydney, what is it with decent restaurants opening in shopping centres? Westfield Sydney has drawn a few sizeable foodie names into its stark, high-end shopping trap and now The Strand Arcade has a second top-notch Italian eatery – La Rosa. I guess if I was Nino Zoccali, chef and owner of Pendolino, I too would take an empty space opposite my well-established restaurant and turn it into an Italian wine bar and pizzeria. Wouldn’t you?
The building in which I work overlooks this grand old shopping arcade and as I watched La Rosa morph from vacant retail floor to the lush and moody space it has opened up to be, it wasn’t long before I was up there sniffing about the menu.
The large floor-area is thoughtfully partitioned into cosy spaces by rose patterned screens. Spots of red light illuminate the dark bar area and the main floor is split in two by a central communal table that seats about sixteen, beneath a cluster of glass pendant lights. During the day natural light streams into the large windows yet at night the lighting is so dim that you just may need a pocket torch to read the menu. Up front at the entrance you can also sit on uncomfortably high stools at a communal table overlooking the arcade atrium or take front-row seats at the kitchen bar and watch the grissini be rolled before it’s baked.
On our visit for lunch we start off with slices of crusty house-baked bread and olive oil for dunking and seeing there were oysters available at $4 per shell, I tried a couple before the next plate of food arrived. Freshly shucked Coffin Bay oysters with a rosey vinaigrette made with Nebbiolo, a red grape from northern Italy. The cheek of lemon was a nice touch but not all that neccesary as there was enough sharp bite in the dressing. Nice oysters. Sweet, meaty, briney, I should have ordered more.
Perfect for an antipasti, or light lunch, is the crostino do sardine con peperoni (18) – crunchy toasted bread topped with ribbons of roasted capsicum & salt cured sardine fillets (made inhouse), shaved red onion salad and fresh green flecks of marjoram. It’s like the sunny Mediterranean on a plate.
All pizzas are stone baked and from the choice of twelve varieties the simple toppings of pancetta del rinascimento e fontina (22) sounded like a winner. Beautifully thin base topped with fontina and strips of Renaissance pancetta. A little too cheesy for some, perfect for me.
The main courses feature a bunch of pasta bakes, seafood, even a couple of offal dishes such as tripe. What piqued my curiosity was the bracciole al sugo (28) – tomato braised pig trotter roll filled with raisins, pinenuts and parsley. This is something you’d expect in nonna’s farmhouse kitchen in the south of Italy, a place where every part of the animal is used. The trotter is de-boned and lightly stuffed with a few chunks of tender meat, the above-mentioned ingredients and sits on some of the most lusciously buttery mashed potato I’ve tasted.
Coffees are well-made and a little on the mild-side and to help them go down I couldn’t veer past something on the dessert menu that reminded me of a treat my mother used to make when I was a kid; a yeasty dough made with potatoes, deep-fried like a doughnut and doused in sugar. Le graffe (12) is the Italian version and here at La Rosa they sin it up even more by topping it with vanilla bean ice cream and sugary syrup. Some may find the texture strangely doughy but lets just say it’s meant to be that way.