216 Commonwealth Street Surry Hills, New South Wales 2010
|Opening hours||D Tues-Sat; group bookings only (5 or more)|
|Features||Accepts bookings, Bar, Licensed, Wheelchair access|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
|Chef||Ben Milgate, Elvis Abrahanowicz|
|Payments||eftpos, AMEX, Visa, Mastercard|
|Phone||02 9212 7766|
THERE are no water views at Bodega, on the edge of Sydney's city centre, which isn't to say there's no floor show: at this modern shopfront in Surry Hills, it's all about owner-chefs Ben Milgate and Elvis Abrahanowicz, a couple of extravagantly tattooed and quiffed rockabillies who stare impassively at the crowd pouring into their no-bookings tapas bar when the doors open at 6pm. It feels like a line call whether we're about to be mugged or fed. Turns out it's the latter — and the experience leaves change from $200: very un-Sydney.
Bodega is Sydney's answer to MoVida by way of Argentina and Pedro Almodovar's Spain, with a quick side-trip to the 1950s, the impression boosted by the pop-art bull dominating one wall. It's a restaurant-bar with all the subcultural brio you could want and a confident breadth to its loosely defined tapas menu and its all-Spanish, Chilean and Argentinian wine list.
Food-wise it goes from the simple charms of an oily plate of white anchovies with so-so white bread, or puffy, golden-crunchy Argentinian beef empanadas with diced black olive and a generous hand on the paprika, to creamy salt-cod-filled red peppers on a parsley salsa verde.
Bigger, and more filling, than what we know as tapas are dishes such as scallops on blood sausage topped with yoghurt tahini between thin, crunchy layers of brik pastry: ultra-rich, and damn good.
There's similarly a lot going on with thick slices of garlicky chargrilled bread topped with kingfish sashimi, shaved celeriac, ceviche cuttlefish, raw onion and mojama (dried tuna flakes). It will decrease your chances of kissing a stranger later on, but that's a small price to pay.
Finish with a clever-pants riff on the banana split, a multi-component thing that includes milk-caramel ice-cream and banana marshmallow.
Did I mention there are no bookings? Very Melbourne but Bodega takes it a step further by refusing to seat a group until all the members have arrived. We saw one member of an advance party put up an impressive fight before being banished to the footpath. Personally, I don't argue with anyone who has more tatts than I've had birthdays. But I'm more than happy to let them cook for me.