193 Pitt St Sydney, NSW 2000
|Opening hours||Mon-Sat noon-midnight|
|Features||Wheelchair access, Bar, Accepts bookings, Business lunch, Degustation, Events, Family friendly, Gluten-free options, Groups, Late night, Licensed, Long lunch, Private dining, Pre-post-theatre, Romance-first date, Vegetarian friendly|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
|Payments||Diner's Club, eftpos, AMEX, Visa, Mastercard|
|Phone||02 9223 1674|
When in the Sydney CBD, do as the Romans do: go to lunch and eat pasta, pizza and porchetta.
After six years of running La Rosa in the Strand Arcade as a buzzy, casual, pan-Italian diner, Pendolino's Nino Zoccali has honed in on Rome, adding an imported Italian volcanic rock grill and a custom-built rosticceria for Roman-inspired grills and spit roasts.
From the grill, you can get a coil of house-made smoked black pig sausage, dry-aged chianina scotch fillet, charry Suffolk lamb spare ribs, or split, grilled Spencer Gulf king prawns. The star, however, is the spit-roasted Golden Plains pig, boned and rolled with rosemary, garlic and Tellicherry black pepper into porchetta ($50) in the style of Ariccia, an historic town just outside Rome.
And the best thing? It is paraded on a trolley, lolling on a silver platter like a Roman god, sure of his beauty. And it is a beauty, the meat clean and aromatic, enrobed in onomatopoeic crackling, with a jug of caroenum – a sweet-but-tart jus of wine, honey and anchovy sauce – adding an other-worldly dimension.
You get two thick slabs of porchetta of about 400 grams, which is a lot for one person. Not impossible, mind.
Sharing head chef duties are Spanish-born Pablo Tordesillas Garcia (Ortiga Brisbane and the Resident) and former Pendolino chef, Joseph Giuffre.
We'll see more of this job-sharing, I suspect, in busy city places; it makes sense to give two professionals both a job and a life.
My only beef with the menu is that what I would call a share plate for two – like the mixed platter of grilled meat ($60) – is suggested on the menu as being for one.
You also get a lot on your plate with the Anzio seafood plate ($59), loaded with rock oysters served three ways, a split prawn smeared with walnut pesto, some lovely fillets of leatherjacket, a slightly mealy fritto misto of zucchini and calamari, and a rich, creamy anchovy mayo. It's enough for two to share, which would lower the entry price and let a few more people in.
The grill might be the big news, but I'd come back for the spaghettoni ($19/$29.90), thickly coated with a green sauce of deep-fried stinging nettles, fried bread and crushed hazelnuts that makes every mouthful lush and mossy.
Trippa alla Romana ($29) is also dead-set terrific; soft strips of honeycomb tripe that are as one with their soft, sweetly spiced tomatoey sugo, rich with pecorino and fresh mint.
With all this focus on Roman food, where are the Roman wines? On the dock, says group sommelier Cristian Casarin.
In the meantime, try the vibrant 2016 Trappolini Cenereto IGT Sangiovese/Montepulciano ($14.70/$72.90) or the easy, breezy 2016 Trappolini Sartei white ($12.20/$60.80), both from Lazio and both punching well above their price tags.
Ricotta meringata ($14.90) is a pleasant mix of creamy sweetness and cumquat compote, although it makes me wonder if La Rosa is too busy morphing into its big brother Pendolino, when it could be going more alla Romana to set itself apart.
Hopefully, more Roman specialties, wines and attitude will come with time. After all, you-know-where wasn't built in a day.
Best bit: Making Rome the star.
Worst bit: Some dishes come lukewarm rather than hot.
Go-to dish: Porchetta Castelli Romani, $50 (until sold out).
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.