52 Mitchell Road Alexandria, New South Wales 2015
|Opening hours||Mon-Sun noon-3pm, 6-9pm; Sat-Sun noon-10pm|
|Features||Licensed, Vegetarian friendly|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
|Payments||eftpos, AMEX, Mastercard, Visa|
|Phone||02 8399 4777|
In the 10 years since it launched, the Cafe Sopra/Fratelli Fresh concept has become a Sydney institution. Using supplies from the fresh food providore, the cafe's kitchen turns out easy, pleasing Italian fare. Lunch combined with upmarket grocery shopping is a cherished weekend tradition for many at the various branches that followed the first one at Danks Street in Waterloo.
The inaugural Cafe Sopra shut its doors earlier this year and moved to nearby Alexandria, taking over the former Buckland Hotel.
The pub has been smartly renovated, with bright white walls, a long bar, and table options for everyone: tall with stools for friends grabbing a drink and a snack; rustic kitchen tables for families to spread out on; and smaller two-seaters. It feels much like the Waterloo venue, but cosier and, predictably, more pub-like. The groceries are at one end, with a walk-in coolroom converted from the former pokies room. And wood-fired pizza is now on offer with the addition of a dome-shaped oven behind the bar.
With a no-bookings policy we hear it might be difficult to get a table but, arriving for lunch on a Saturday, we are seated immediately.
Many dishes will be comfortingly familiar to regulars. Some are seasonal – grilled peaches with mulloway, zucchini flowers and broad beans – while heartier classics include bucatini and meatballs and ragu alla Bolognese. There's an excellent selection of antipasti, plus pasta and pizza, and meat and fish mains.
Zucchini flowers stuffed with five cheeses (I can pick ricotta, gorgonzola, goat's and parmigiano) are fabulously crunchy and juicy in a light, salty batter. Tiny pickled whole beetroots are sweeter and less sharp than expected, but make a substantial salad with soft orange-yolked boiled eggs, crisp pancetta, and a light gorgonzola dressing.
The cocktail list ranges from il classico – Campari spritz, amaretto sour, bellini – to a more adventurous Irish-Italian concoction of Jameson, limoncello, thyme, lemon juice and olive oil.
There are familiar local and international beers and Sopra's standard lengthy list of wine by the glass, as well as the bottle, all from Italy, starting from $3.50 for the house red or white. There's also non-vintage Pommery Champagne for $10 a glass. Staff are cheerful and casual.
The pizzas here are good, the toppings uncomplicated and the bases are chewy and tasting of the wood-fired ovens though not as blackened on the bottom as tradition would have it. The margherita is a winner, as is the simple combination of smoked mozzarella and mushrooms with fresh rocket piled on top.
Our standout dish is a beautiful whole trout baked with mint and marjoram, its skin salty and crisp with pink, delicate flesh sliding easily off the bones. It arrives plain and unadorned, so you'll need a couple of side dishes, such as asparagus with lemon and olive oil, or radicchio with balsamic.
For dessert, the much-loved Sopra "torta banoffee" might be as Italian as sloe gin, but it's been on their menus for a decade with good reason, with its crumbly wheat-biscuit crust, thick, creamy condensed-milk caramel, sliced bananas and pillowy whipped cream. We pair it with a couple of smooth espressos.
Cafe Sopra takes well to transplants. Here's to the next 10 years.
Menu Casual Italian with a British-Aussie accent.
Recommended dishes Stuffed zucchini flowers, whole baked trout, torta banoffee.