Baccomatto Osteria

Terry Durack
Stark and smart ... Baccomatto Osteria is uncompromisingly modern but never clinical.
Stark and smart ... Baccomatto Osteria is uncompromisingly modern but never clinical. Photo: Marco Del Grande

212 Riley Street Surry Hills, NSW 2010

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Opening hours Mon-Tues 5pm-11pm,Wed-Sun 12pm-11pm
Features Wheelchair access, Outdoor seating, Bar, Accepts bookings, Licensed
Prices Moderate (mains $20-$40)
Chef Valerio Boncompagni
Seats 90
Payments eftpos, AMEX, Visa, Mastercard
Phone 02 9215 5140

FATTI IN CASA. APART FROM ''Campari'', ''Negroni'' and ''Bellini'', they're the three most reassuring words you can find on an Italian menu. The phrase means ''made in house'', signifying that someone has taken the trouble to do things from scratch rather than buy in and outsource. To take things into their own hands, literally.

And it's all pretty hands-on at Baccomatto, the smart new osteria tucked in beside the colourful Cambridge Hotel in Surry Hills, which is the latest offering from black-clad, Melbourne-Italian Mauro Marcucci of Enopizzeria and partner Michael Stevens. Apart from the selection of imported Italian cheeses and salumi made by Pino's Dolce Vita in Kogarah, practically everything on the menu is fatti in casa.

Take the focaccia, which chef Valerio Boncompagni turns out every day to accompany platters of salumi and house-made porchetta. It's pure bloody magic; thick, soft, golden, salty and flecked with rosemary. If you're hankering after pizza, try the little panzerotti; crisp, golden triangles ($4 each) of yeasty dough encasing a mush of tomato and mozzarella that is just plain delicious.

Go-to dish ... spaghetti alla chitarra fatti in casa con salsa carbonara con tartufo.
Go-to dish ... spaghetti alla chitarra fatti in casa con salsa carbonara con tartufo. Photo: Marco Del Grande

Other wine-friendly spuntini (snacks) include marinated, roasted eggplant and red capsicum and fried mozzarella with anchovies. Salt cod croquettes ($4.50) are crisp and golden without tasting particularly of salt cod. Better are their eggplant equivalents ($3.50) and two-bite arancini rice balls ($4).

The casa itself is no cosy faux tratt but a starkly, smartly, minimalist dining room by uncompromisingly modern Melbourne designer Chris Connell. The interiors he has done for Marcucci over the years are almost a brand in themselves - strong slabs of blacks and whites, walls of wine bottles, stretches of white marble and concrete and blackboard. This one is immediately appealing with its broad, low marble bar, strongly symmetrical and clean-lined without being clinical. Bung in a few busy Italian waiters - and an equal number of Italian-speaking diners - and you'd be hard put to describe anything about Baccomatto as clinical.

Most of the following options are pasta, with less than half-a-dozen non-pasta options and specials, a balance that silently sanctions the un-Italian habit of ordering pasta as a main course. There's a silky dish of squid ink gnocchetti ($24), whose little ink-black lozenges look for all the world like polished Japanese stones, bathed in sea-sweet juices and dotted with baby calamari.

Boncompagni does a pasta alla carbonara ($25) that leaves your high-street spag carb for dead. The pasta is aggressively al dente, coated with a rich, un-oily emulsion of egg yolk, cheese, pepper and crunchy shards of guanciale (pig-cheek bacon) that symbolises everything good about carbonara. A few thin slices of dark truffle add a little glamour and contrast, but we're gilding lilies here.

The hands-on nature of the cooking extends to the timing; knowing that tiny calamaretti ($12) need only a flash in a pan to be sweet and delicate, and that black Angus rib eye ($28) needs to go hard and strong on the charcoal grill to be crusty and sizzling. Only a green leaf salad ($6) weighed down with super-salty crisped prosciutto and salted ricotta could do with less intervention.

By definition, an osteria is a tavern serving good wine and simple food, so what about the wine? The list is concise but clever, with wines by the glass priced between $7 and $13, and a solid Italian presence that includes a clean, summery, unoaked 2011 Ca del Baio chardonnay ($60) from the Langhe in Piemonte.

Desserts run to a hazelnut semifreddo and baked peaches with amaretti, but a lunchtime special of plum crostata ($5) is a heart-stealer.

Like everything else made in-house here, it comes not just from somebody's hands but from a strong, inbuilt ethos of how things can and should be done. It's that mix of the old-school and the new cool that makes this one of the most appealing new doors to open in Surry Hills for years.

The low-down

Best bit Focaccia, pasta, panzerotti.

Worst bit All the best bits are carbs.

Go-to dish Spaghetti alla chitarra fatti in casa con salsa carbonara con tartufo, $24.

Terry Durack is chief restaurant critic for The Sydney Morning Herald and senior reviewer for the Good Food Guide. This rating is based on the Good Food Guide scoring system.