11 Grosvenor Ln Neutral Bay, NSW 2089
|Opening hours||Tues-Wed 4pm-11pm; Thurs 4pm-midnight; Fri-Sat noon-midnight|
|Features||Licensed, Bar, Outdoor seating|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
|Phone||02 7813 2403|
Enoteca 128's name means wine library but its numerals bear a deeper story. Partly inspired by the restaurant's technical street number, found on the building's Military Road side, it also hails from co-owner Richard Trezzi's initial desire to stock 120 wines.
"But then," he says, "I got so excited I ordered a lot more. We now have more than 200 labels."
Maths fans or address pedants, can also add one, two and eight to reach 11 which neatly corresponds to the Grosvenor Lane street number, found on a cobblestoned back passage lined with native plants and low tomato-hued LED lights turning the ground red.
Enoteca 128, which is co-owned by Trezzi, Francesco Zonta and chef Gianluca Marongiu, opened in early 2021. Four busy months were followed by July's lockdown sparking a full menu takeaway service, an unexpectedly successful business expansion that included wine and cocktail pairings.
"I've never made so many margaritas in my life before," Trezzi says. "It was hard to ask the chef to place food in takeaway containers, and some did not suit that, but people loved it. Our date night food and cocktails pack for two people continues to this day."
Trezzi, who has known Marongiu since they went to school together in Lake Como, says Enoteca's 128's main focus is dine-in. Set on a sheltered, landscaped laneway with outdoor tables and locals wandering in with hearty, old friend hellos, it could be a neighbourly bistro on any modern European dining street.
The menu is fine Italian, offered on two pages and grouped beneath stuzzichini con le dita, antipasti, primi, secondi, contorni and dolci. A six-dish tasting menu is also available and a cheese platter.
Food is offered with gusto and knowledge but not pretence, and service is fast and sincere. Asking Trezzi for his dish-to-wine recommendations is like requesting a poet to recite their greatest loves.
Considering our food orders, he suggests a Girlan 448 Vigneti delle Dolomiti, grown 448 metres above the sea (hence the name) in the Alto Adige region in Northen Italy, a glass of Malenchini Bruzzico I.G.T., from Toscana, from the menu's rossi, or reds, and another of Rudi Vindiman "Fuori Standard" Muller Thurgau, from Trentino.
The wines arrive swiftly along side mains ranging from delicate and deftly wrapped packages of Etty Bay barramundi strudel with eggplant, olives, caper and lemon dressing, to ruggedly warming lamb ossobuco ragu, with maccheroni al ferretto (rustic pasta tubes), Jerusalem artichokes and a zesty Italian parsley sauce.
We've already plunged crisp lavosh squares into gorgonzola mousse, its pillowy creaminess dented by slices of fresh fig, watercress, walnuts and corbezzolo honey, a rare bitter honey from strawberry trees grown in Sardinia.
Equally luscious is a side dish of roasted spiced pumpkin with pickled red onion and goat`s curd. A table nearby is rejoicing in vitello tonnato cigarone, one of chef Gianluca Marongiu's plays on a classic Italian dish.
Three pastry cylinders, each filled with veal and creamy tuna sauce, stand like crispy flaxen chimneys in a mock "ashtray" of smooth stones. We watch our neighbours crunch them like bigwigs chomping on evening cigars.
Many of Trezzi's 200 wines line Enoteca's black and white interior on high wooden shelves framed by dark orange suspended lamps, tall upholstered black stools, forest green leather banquettes and copper bar counters.
A black-and-white photographic mural on the back wall, which features over-sized hand gestures ranging from OK to thumbs-up, shush and speak-up, bears an almost Hitchcockian air of surreptitious intrigue.
It pairs well with the yoghurt and vanilla panna cotta, a quivering innocent-on-the-surface snow-white orb ringed by fresh berries, macadamia and elderflower blossoms. Scoop into its soft belly for mouthfuls of potently elderflower liquor-laced creaminess.
It's worth taking time to leaf through Enoteca 128's 22-page wine, cocktail, beer and spirits library menu, because, at the end, is a handy map of the wine regions of Italy. Or use it as an excuse to hear Trezzi lyrically explain this memorable side street bistro's passion for good food and wine.
Vibe Fine Italian food and wine in casual European laneway setting.
Go-to dish Etty Bay barramundi strudel with eggplant, olives, caper and lemon dressing.
Insta-worthy dish Yoghurt and vanilla panna cotta with berries, macadamia and elderflower blossoms.