Bella Brutta review

Pizza marinara scattered with optional Ortiz anchovies.
Pizza marinara scattered with optional Ortiz anchovies.  Photo: James Brickwood

135 King St Newtown, NSW 2042

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Opening hours Mon-Fri 5-11pm; Sat noon-11pm; Sun noon-10pm
Features Family friendly, Licensed, Accepts bookings
Prices Moderate (mains $20-$40)
Phone 02 9922 5941

I can see the headlines of horror now: "Is this Sydney's most ridiculous pizza?". In an age when Domino's will deliver three pizzas, one garlic bread and one large soft drink to your home for $36.95, it is something of an ask to charge $21 for extra anchovies. And that's without the pizza.

Bella Brutta (Italian for beautiful ugly) exists in a sort of parallel universe to the likes of Domino's with an emphasis on hand-made and seasonal.

The classic marinara pizza (pomodoro, garlic, oregano, $17) comes with an optional side order from the anchovy menu, from $12 for a can of the excellent Cuca to $21 for Don Bocarte. It's the sort of move that will thrill anchovy-lovers and pretty much infuriate the rest of the world.

Ortiz anchovies, $18.
Ortiz anchovies, $18.  Photo: James Brickwood

It's also a statement consistent with the passions of the management. Bella Brutta is a co-production from LP's Quality Meats' Luke Powell, and Porteno's Elvis Abrahanowicz and Joseph Valore, who have invested heavily in Spain's finest conservas (canned goods) with their two Continental Delis.

Bella Brutta presents a breezy open-windowed whitewashed face to an otherwise unmemorable bend of King Street, Newtown. 

Inside, it's a long, skinny, raw-boned room, with a broad bar lined with stools, and chefs in full flight slinging pizza into the wood-fired oven.

Inside the long, skinny room.
Inside the long, skinny room. Photo: James Brickwood

The constantly changing antipasti and small plates might include a sardine escabeche ($12) that is light, warm and oily, or a meltingly soft, cloud-like ricotta gnudi with lightly cooked zucchini and zucchini flowers ($24) that's a pretty picture of the summer to come.

Then again, it might include an itsy-bitsy, nothing-to-see-here tumble of smoked mackerel and marukai turnips ($18), or a pile of lovely fresh ricotta ($15) topped with slices of fibrous, assertively chewy, green tomatoes.

Dishes are almost aggressively simple, reduced to two or three ingredients that have to speak for themselves.

Simplicity: Sardine escabeche.
Simplicity: Sardine escabeche. Photo: James Brickwood

Cheery staff will rattle off a couple of off-menu mains, such as farm-raised Eugowra quail from central western NSW ($36).

Darkly roasted from head to toenail, it's as big as a pigeon, presented with a crisp salad of witlof and fresh nectarine. The exceptionally well-developed flavour is even able to cope with a powerful, cherry/berry 2016 Sassafras Sagrantino ($78) from the Canberra region.

But it's all about the pizza. Liberated, perhaps, by the fact that he has never been to Italy, Luke Powell does pizza his way, using a blend of Italian and Australian flours and markedly long fermentation.

Ricotta gnudi with lightly cooked zucchini and zucchini flowers.
Ricotta gnudi with lightly cooked zucchini and zucchini flowers. Photo: James Brickwood

The crust comes pocked with bubbles and often scorched to the extent of second-degree burns, ensuring a cooked-through base.

It's seriously good, whether sent into the oven with a handful of surf clams, pecorino and chilli ($26), or baked with fior di latte, parmesan, garlic and green olives (no tomato), then draped with LP's smooth, nutty mortadella and green olives ($26).

Best by a country mile is the marinara ($17), with its sweetly acidic tomato salsa and busty, bubbled crust. Yes, I ordered a can of Ortiz anchovies ($18) and twirled the fat, fruity, salty, little fish on every slice. Of course I did.

Wobbly panna cotta in a vermouth syrup pool.
Wobbly panna cotta in a vermouth syrup pool.  Photo: James Brickwood

Desserts are minimalist, with a panna cotta ($10) wobbling itself into a creamy pool in syrupy vermouth-scented juices.

Bella Brutta isn't cheap, and it's a bit over-hyped (all players are much admired in the industry), but there's plenty about it that's beautiful, and very little that's ugly.

The low-down

Bella Brutta

Vegetarian 10 plant-based small plates and two pizze (marinara and cavolo nero)

Drinks Peroni Red and Grifter pale ale, six aperitivi, five digestivi and a clever Italian-leaning wine list divided simply into sparkling, white, orange, rose and red. Says it all, really.

Go-to dish Pizza marinara ($17) with anchovies as an optional extra ($12-$21)

Pro tip There's a courtyard to the rear for sunny weekend lunches.

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.

https://www.bellabrutta.com.au/