167 Phillip St Sydney, NSW 2000
|Opening hours||Mon-Fri noon-midnight, Sat 6pm-midnight|
|Features||Licensed, Accepts bookings|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
|Phone||02 9922 5941|
Ramos gin fizz, kangaroo mortadella, handsome moustaches, serious tattoos and the odd bandana. Yessirree, you can take the Continental Deli out of Newtown, but you can't take Newtown out of the Continental Deli.
"Yes, we can," says the Continental, as ever, but they're just talking about their 15 different varieties of canned fish and seafood, their ring-pull Mar-tinny cans and their forthcoming Ameri-can-o.
Head chef Jesse Warkentinny (sorry, Warkentin), maitre d' Michael Nicolian, and head bartender Marcus Dullard have all made the move into the charmless depths of the CBD, a physical and cultural shift masterminded by canny co-owners Elvis Abrahanowicz and Joe Valore.
Outside, there's a painfully slow sliding glass door and all-too-obvious views of brightly lit office lobbies, but inside, it's a racy little inner urban scene. Co-owner and style maven Sarah Doyle has put together a lively mix of brasserie-inspired dining room and stool-lined Newyorkese cocktail bar with distinctive deco touches (wonderful brass and glass star ceiling lights), a wall of wine, and '30s-themed posters by graphic artist Michael Wholley.
The mixed bag of a menu should suit the suits, running from platters of cheese, charcuterie and conservas (proudly Spanish tinned and aged fish and seafood) to lunchtime sandwiches, share dishes and house-made pasta using the restaurant's shiny new pasta maker.
Come for lunch and you can't go past the big-boy baguette stuffed with meatballs and parmigiano reggiano ($22) – although the French dip ($26) is a curiosity worth trying.
Neither French nor a dip, it calls for slow-roasted Rangers Valley sirloin to be finely sliced and briefly dunked in a beef masterstock, then stacked in a lightly grilled baguette with WA's Torndirrup Appenzelle washed-rind cheese. In truth, it's a double-dip – you also dip your baguette into a small bowl of intense beef bouillon to soften it before each bite. As I discovered years ago at the legendary Coles Bar in downtown LA where it allegedly originated in 1908, it's all about getting the bowl-to-mouth distance right.
Being open all afternoon gives Continental a real point of difference – you can turn up at 3pm for charcuterie or cheeses, or a bright, oily, fruity salad of bull peppers, Turkish peppers and whippy ricotta ($24) that's spiked with burnt honey, splodges of olive jam and fresh basil leaves.
My pick of the charcuterie is LP's lush, lightly smoky kangaroo mortadella, served with olives and pickled peppers ($14). If you want the house sourdough with it, that's another $3.50 a head. The oft-changing pasta is curly-edged mafalda today, its silky ribbons tossed with truly delicious Olasagasti tuna, tomato and mojama ($30). You wouldn't order it for its looks, but you'd keep it for its down-home flavour.
Of the five mains, the Kurobuta pork chop ($44) is a big slab of clean-tasting meat with plenty of sweet fat, served with old-school apple sauce, creme fraiche and a wad of thoroughly cooked sugarloaf cabbage.
Neither a serve of Charlton blue with Misura crackers ($13) nor a rather dry almond granita studded with cubes of rockmelon ($14) is terribly exciting.
With the expanded, more serious wine list, it's the drinking and snacking that are the strong points, with some dishes coming across as over-priced or humdrum. But give them time. And if anyone can instil inner urban charm and a sense of community into the suited-up city scene, the Continental can.
Drinks Canned cocktails and a wall of wine that ranges far and wide, from Rockford Basket Press (four vintages) to Chateau Brane Cantenac (not canned) Margaux
Vegetarian Lunch could be a cheese toastie, fennel salad or grilled peppers. Dinner, pasta and vegetable sides
Go-to dish French dip, $26
Pro tip Order your pre-dinner drink in a can – because you can