38-52 Waterloo St Surry Hills, NSW 2010
|Opening hours||Mon-Sat 6-10pm|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
|Phone||02 9007 7789|
Don't let the blue spirulina tagliatelle at Mark + Vinny's put you off. No, wait. On second thoughts, DO let the blue spirulina tagliatelle at Mark and Vinny's put you off.
If you can't cope with the idea of pasta made with anything other than doppio zero flour, eggs and olive oil, then stay well away.
Chances are you may not be able to cope with spaghettini that is ruby-red with beetroot, bucatini that is black with charcoal, or an egg yolk made from sweet potato.
Or the atrocious puns on the menu – gnoc, gnoc, gnocchi on heaven's door, a spritz called Nothing Camparis To You, and a catch-cry of "don't be upsetti, eat some spaghetti".
With a vegan vibe and 20-plus list of spritzes, Mark + Vinny's has all the things millennials require from a dining experience – #cleaneating options, lower-alcohol drinks, Insta'bility and no preachy sermons – and I have to say it's a load of fun.
Mark Filipelli and Vince Pizzinga, Aussie Italians who met up in LA, have hit the ground running at this cute, tall-ceilinged but still squeezy 45-seater, where the shelves are lined with Campari and Aperol; pink neon sings Fly Me To the Moon and Little Italy's Sinatra and Dino are in the air.
The menu is full of surprises, and I don't mean sky-blue tagliatelle, I mean – meatballs. Chef Adrian Jankuloski shows off his Icebergs and The Dolphin heritage by hand-chopping pork, veal and mortadella into nonna-style meatballs with a dense tomato sugo ($18); an island of glorious comfort food floating in a meat-free sea.
And right next to a (real) burrata with green tomato jam and basil oil ($20) is a fake mozzarella, all soy and coconut oil, with heirloom tomatoes and basil ($18). It doesn't taste like mozzarella, or tofu, but something nicely in-between.
Chickpea hummus is a terrific starter, scooped up with fingers of grilled schiacciata flatbread ($14), and well-matched to a Margarita spritz ($18) that's perky with tequila, Cointreau, ruby grapefruit, lime, lemon bitters and bush tonic. Everyone's on spritzes tonight ($16 to $25) – and why wouldn't you, when the wine pour is 125ml.
That blue tagliatelle ($34) is pliable, silky and surprisingly al dente, with a clean, seaweedy finish. Combining blue swimmer crab, bottarga and crunchy breadcrumbs and pasta made with a nutrient-dense powdered algae is intuitive, although I fear it never really comes together as one.
Then there's an aggressively al dente maccaruni Calabrese ($28), the pasta made by Peppe's in Haberfield, with a chunky beef rib ragu that's more beef rib than ragu. A juicy slab of bitter orange cake with blood orange granita and prosecco zabaglione ($16) makes me happy I didn't go for the deep-fried "no-tella" ravioli.
Weaknesses? The pasta doesn't fly me to the moon. I miss that indivisible fusing together of sauce and pasta, when the starches and sauce emulsify and bond.
I get that this traditional fusing isn't a priority here, but without the sauces coating and being absorbed by the pasta, you're left with more fashion than form.
Strengths? The humour, the warmth and the well-built spritzes, and the sassy, savvy combo of American red-sauce joint and Surry Hills spritz bar. It just needs a bit more work on the core product, before it can play among the stars.
Vegetarian: All but four of the 16 dishes on the menu are vegetarian.
Drinks: The biggest and brightest spritz list in town, plus well-made cocktails and 20 minimal-intervention wines, both sparkling and still.
Go-to-dish: Blue spirulina tagliatelle, blue swimmer crab, $34.
Pro tip: Say yes to the comped pre-batched vermouth-based digestivo.
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.