I feel like I’ve walked through the doors of North Bondi Italian Food and been transported to behind the walls of a Mediterranean trattoria.
Neild Avenue opened a few weeks ago, in suprise suprise, Neild Avenue, Ruchcutters Bay – right between the car dealerships and fabric wholesalers. It’s the latest venture of Rob Marchetti and Maurice Terzini – together they count Sydney’s North Bondi Italian Food and Icebergs Dining Room & Bar, and, Melbourne’s, Giuseppe, Arnaldo & Sons as strings in their successful foodie bow.
An old warehouse has been converted into what feels like an art-barn. Enormous Anthony Lister artworks act as walls (that can be lowered to create private dining spaces) and the back of canvas’s house the bar. Polished concrete floors, simple booth seating, a black and white colour palette and hints of the Mediterranean are hidden in simple decorative elements.
It’s theatrical, understated and it’s packed.
Luckily I’ve been invited to join two of the most glamorous people I know for a late dinner, Hair’em and Helen of Troy, so I’m whisked past the queue of waiting diners at the bar to our booth (right by the kitchen, yay!)
We’re trying to guess what all the meats and fish are piled on silver skewers in the refrigerated kitchen windows.
There’s a pottery pirate that sits on the pass – like one from the old port/whiskey jugs. I’m told he’s like a good luck charm that comes to every new restaurant they open, and tonight he’s keeping a watchful eye over the kitchen.
I used to know a gorgeous Lebanese family that would invite me around for Christmas – a Lebanese Christmas was one of the most amazing food experiences I’ve had (I joke that I was Middle Eastern/Mediterranean in a past life… but it’s not a joke). All the women in the family would spend weeks preparing all the food in their family kitchens, the men would cook the meat in an open fire made from an old oil drum in the concrete backyard and I would upset the apple cart (boys sat with the boys and girls sat with the girls) by going between drinking the home brew ‘Arak‘ (rocket fuel) with the boys by the fire and pestering the women for recipes in the kitchen – oh and I was the only blonde. This was where I first tried Kibbeh – raw meat mixed with herbs and raw onion… and I liked it. They always sent me home with plates of leftovers too. I was in heaven.
Tonight’s Kibbeh was on steroids… incredible, so full of flavour and so fresh, served on a lettuce leaf. I think this might be a favourite.
We’re brought the octopus marinated in lemon and marjoram and served on a cucumber salad. It’s so soft and somewhere between opaque and transparent that it just melts in my mouth. Then comes the ‘Imam bayildi’ (baked eggplant and bell pepper filled with onions, tomato, peppers with a young parsley salad, served warm); ‘Quinoa salad’ (chickpeas, tomato, coriander, pickled wood-fired onions, with a mint and toasted chickpea dressing; ‘Fake Tabouli salad’ (amaranth grain, coriander, parsley, cucumber, tomato, lemon, crispy shallots, hung yoghurt). The quinoa salad is probably my favourite of the lot – a heavy dried mint dressing and mix of of soft and crunchy chickpeas. Yum.
Rob catches me half way through kawing on my enormous lamb cutlet. I try to tell him it’s delicious but I think I have meat on my face (yes I used my hands). Order the lamb!
The twice cooked hand cut chips (made with two different types of potatoes – bintje and sebago) deserve their own paragraph. Soft, crunchy, sweet and salty all at once. A.mazing.There’s was a goat dish, but I don’t really rememeber it.
Maurice (Terzini) appears… swoops to refill Grove Estate 08 Nebbiolo and leaves. Helen of Troy calls him the ‘caped man’ – a fabulously draped, serious but softly spoken enigma tonight that effortlessly fills any holes on the restraurant floor.
I love the beaten brass water jugs and pressed metal serving bowls that appear every now and then.
Rob makes a special dessert for Helen of Troy – a lactose free version of their ‘Pomegrantes everything’ (pomegranates; fresh jelly, molasses and granita with set vanilla cream). Hair’em likes the look of the ‘Bomboloni’ (almost a mini donut filled with a cooked vanilla cream and orange blossom jam) and I’m having the ‘A sort of adult sundae’ (prune gelato, prune syrup, almond chantilly, toasted almonds and organic marinated prunes). On top of that, Rob brings us the ‘Chocolate ginger layer cake’ (with tempered chocolate sauce) and some of their homemade Turkish delight. Good lord that’s a lot of sweets, even for me!The Bomboloni is the love child of creme brulee and a cinnamon donut (I won’t post the photo of me trying to take a bite out of them, but I’m smiling). The pomegrantes everything is a refrshing rich syrupy berry granita with a hint of rose water. Hair’em shares a spoonful of her chocolate ginger cake with someone at the next table who’s admiring the five dessert we’re now sharing between us.
God knows we’ve eaten enough but it’s such a nice place to hang out, we decide to have a nightcap cocktail in the front bar – the No. 8 and the No. 74 (don’t ask me what was in them). It’s late, but there are still a lot of beautiful people milling around.
We thank Rob – who’s now sitting down to their staff dinner – and tell him we’ll be back within the week.
Neild Avenue – 10 Neild Avenue, Rushcutters Bay NSW 2011 – 02 8353 4400