​Bistecca review

Smoky, charred and salty bistecca alla fiorentina.
Smoky, charred and salty bistecca alla fiorentina.  Photo: James Brickwood

3 Dalley St Sydney, NSW 2000

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Opening hours Mon-Sat from 4pm-2am
Features Licensed
Prices Expensive (mains over $40)
Phone 02 8067 0450

It's about the rules. There are an awful lot of them built into this basement bar and restaurant inspired by the glories of bistecca alla fiorentina, a meaty T-bone traditionally from Tuscany's chianina beef.

For instance, you can't book a table for fewer than six at Bistecca by phone or online. You have to roll up in person after 4pm on the day you want to dine, and scribble your name on a scroll of paper on the wall. 

That's if you can find the place. The entrance is a deliberately anonymous doorway in a CBD backstreet, leading downstairs to a brown, wood-lined bar, overpopulated with small tables.

Bistecca – a lot of charm and a few surprises.
Bistecca – a lot of charm and a few surprises. Photo: James Brickwood

It's first-come, first-served, for two nightly sittings starting from 6pm and 6.30pm and 8pm and 8.30pm. If your party is not all present, you have to wait.

That's no problem when there's negroni on tap ($19) and cicchetti of prosciutto ($9) or shavings of pecorino drizzled with truffled honey from Forcoli, near Pisa ($10).

When the table is ready, you are ushered through to the concealed dining room – and here's where the rules melt away like the marbled fat on a wagyu rib-eye. 

Herb-flecked white beans.
Herb-flecked white beans. Photo: James Brickwood

Because there's only one main course, and it's not. Wagyu, I mean. Wagyu is amazing, but it's just too rich and intense to be served as a great big bloody steak.

Instead, owners James Bradey and Warren Burns of Grandma's and the Wild Rover have sourced grain-fed black angus (marble score 2+) from the Riverine region of southern NSW and aged it for just two days.

There's a bit of argy-bargy with your waiter about the weight, then chef Pip Pratt cuts your T-bone to order with a handsaw, grills it over ironbark, and seasons it with just olive oil and sea salt. Mine, according to the scrawl on the papered table, is 770g, $100.10.

Beetroot and ricotta.
Beetroot and ricotta. Photo: James Brickwood

There's real charm about the small 50-seat room and its open hearth, butcher's block, domed brick-clad ceiling and black-and-white tiled floor. About a cheeky sommelier who lands at the table with a raised eyebrow and a "well?". About a wine room that carries 300 Italians and Italian varietals. 

And about a list of 13 sides and starters that includes crisp cos leaves under a smoked mussel emulsion with prosciutto crumbs ($12), and a bowl of herb-flecked, properly cooked white beans ($12).

The steak tastes like butter, edged with fat; smoky, charred and salty. It's cooked to a non-scary, non-bloody, medium-rare (more rules), carved and re-assembled along the bone. I like it because it's good, proper, tender cow meat, the way steak used to be before the world went wagyu-mad.

Crisp cos with smoked mussel dressing and prosciutto crumbs.
Crisp cos with smoked mussel dressing and prosciutto crumbs. Photo: James Brickwood

Dining here is such a controlled, regulated "journey", I'm not going to tell you all that happens along the way. I could drop a few hints – about surrendering your phones, dipping focaccia into candle-wax, endless rivers of amari and digestivi, the exit via a secret door – but that's for you to discover. 

Enough to say that you're here for a good steak from a great grill in a retro-fitted Tuscan dining room, with the odd surprise thrown in.

It's an arrogant concept, to adopt from birth the sort of rules that older, traditional restaurants have formed and evolved over decades. Bistecca, however, does it with high energy hospitality that succeeds in transporting you from the everyday.

Classic finish: tiramisu.
Classic finish: tiramisu.  Photo: James Brickwood

The low-down

Vegetarian: Most side dishes and some antipasti are meat-free, which sort of makes up for the main course.

Drinks: Four Italian beers, four negronis, and a sharp list of Italian labels and local Italian varietals from sommelier Alice Massaria.

Go-to dish: Bistecca, of course ($13 for 100g).

Pro tip: Go for a negroni on tap and a meatball panino in the bar any time from 4pm to 2am.

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.bistecca.com.au