174 Liverpool St Darlinghurst, NSW 2010
|Opening hours||Tue-Fri noon-11pm; Sat 5-11pm|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
|Phone||02 8354 0881|
Some restaurants just make me sigh. I might be halfway through some oily, deep-fried vegetable or paying a fortune for a single prawn, when I suddenly find myself wishing I had stayed home and cooked something myself. Sigh.
Then there are restaurants like Darlinghurst's Bar Vincent, which make me sigh in a different way, in a long exhalation, "Aaaahhhh".
This low-key, Italianish neighbourhood restaurant opened in August last year on the former site of Tre Scalini, the 1980s hotspot that founding Good Food Guide editor Leo Schofield called "Sydney's most fashionable feeding trough".
While Tre Scalini attracted eastern suburbs' A-listers such as Maggie Tabberer, Peter Weiss, Carla Zampatti, and Harry Miller, Bar Vincent pulls in a relaxed crowd of mostly local young families, old mates and couples. (Come back, Carla Zampatti, you'd love this place too.)
Co-owner Andy Logue was head chef of Melbourne's one-hatted Scopri for six years, while Sarah Simm worked her way through Melbourne's Rosa's Kitchen and Sydney's Sean's Panaroma and Billy Kwong.
They haven't radicalised the place; just cleaned it up and installed a timber bar made from a dismantled jetty on NSW's south coast. Neither are Italian, but they are Melburnian, which gives them an inherent understanding of Italian hospitality.
Boxes of produce are piled up in doorways, gondola-shaped sourdough loaves are baked daily and sent out with mossy green Alto olive oil, and the short menus and wine lists are written by hand.
Belay that menu, though, and listen to Simm run through what's not on it, which could be gnocchi al pomodoro, lemon cake with ricotta and battuta di manzo.
The battuta, a hand-chopped Piemontese beef tartare ($23), is softly seasoned with olive oil, lemon, chives, capers and parmigiano and served with grilled sails of sourdough. Without the richness of egg and mustard, it tastes fresh and clean.
Another off-menu item is agnolotti del plin ($26), the small, folded pasta stuffed with veal and pork and whatever the kitchen has to hand – this time, rabbit. It's homely and comforting, bathed in (probably too much) velvety, buttery sauce, scattered with crisp sage leaves.
Logue cooks with a light hand, so a generous dish of fregola ($31) sees the nutty Sardinian semolina pasta tossed with a chip-chop of snapper, mussels, prawns, cuttlefish, vongole, olive oil, tomato and basil, fused into a lovely tangle of sea-sweet flavours.
The kitchen is tiny, with minimal staff, hence the limited main courses. If you grew up on crumbed lamb cutlets, then these are for you – long-boned, well-trimmed, crisply crumbed Cowra lamb ($40) cooked just beyond pink, and served with a mound of chopped silverbeet and lemon.
It's homely eating, the sort you crave after too many 13-course degustations (I know, it's a hard life). Roasted potatoes tossed with caramelised sweet onions ($10) should be mandatory.
Drinks on the short and snappy list are Italian varietals, spritzes, Americanos and stove-top coffee, with a good-value 2019 Sutton Grange Fairbank Sangiovese ($13/$65) adding spice.
Whatever you have for dessert should be inspired by whatever fruit is piled high in the wooden bowls. Lemons, perhaps, in a simple cake with fresh ricotta ($9). Or peaches, baked with amaretto ($15) and sent out with toasty ﬂaked almonds and cream. They do what a good restaurant does – make you feel at peace with the world. Sigh.
Vegetarian: A couple of starters and a couple of pasta dishes.
Drinks: Classic Italian cocktails, Menabrea beer and a natural-leaning list of Italian varietals with input from Sydney sommelier Sophie Otton.
Go-to dish: Fregola, prawn, cuttlefish, vongole, mussels, $31.
Pro tip: Some of the best dishes aren't listed on the menu, so just ask.