80 Campbell St Surry Hills, NSW 2010
|Opening hours||Dinner daily|
|Features||Accepts bookings, Licensed|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
|Payments||eftpos, Visa, Mastercard|
To understand the anticipation surrounding Surry Hills' latest trattoria, you should know that Pellegrino 2000 sold out of its branded tote bag online before even opening. A musician moving all of their limited-edition tour T-shirts before hitting the road? Sure, it happens, but this is wild new territory for a restaurant.
Not every restaurant has acclaimed chefs Daniel Pepperell and Michael Clift in the kitchen, though, and wine gun Andy Tyson looking after all things booze and service. The trio also runs Potts Point's Bistrot 916, which opened last year and became an instant hit by subverting French dining with almost punk-rock panache.
Bistrot 916 is a place to have your steak frites and eat it with cult natural wines, too, or share boudin noir spring rolls over a table covered in salmon-pink butcher's roll. If I miss one thing about lockdown, it's Clift and Pepperell's takeaway cheeseburger, which boasted a creamy plinth of foie gras that had Millennials flocking to Challis Avenue en masse.
Officially, Pellegrino is an Italian restaurant, but the kitchen uses plenty of ingredients that would shock a Tuscan. If you find yourself eating trippa fritta ($26) and wondering what the tang is kicking through the crumbed tripe and parmesan, I'll help: it's a citrusy Sichuan-ish pepper from Japan. We're not in Florence anymore.
Shelves of tomato tins and display pasta channel a more traditional tratt, and modernist Italian prints are striking on the stucco feature wall. A streetside bar is made for negronis ($18) before dinner, while a basement wine-cave can be booked for couples and groups keen on low-lighting and old shiraz.
Tyson bought hundreds of random bottles at auction to line the downstairs bunker and their purpose is mostly aesthetic. Sommelier Dirk Bromley is happy to open any on request, but buyer beware: that Lindeman's 1974 claret may well have become flabby vinegar.
Safer to stay with the "official" wine list, handsomely bound and full of food-friendly Italians. A glass of something steadying and red is pretty much mandatory with a rigatoni alla bolognese ($32) that's humming with long-simmered pork and veal, plus semi-secret ingredient fish sauce. It's a ragu with the right balance of gravity and gloss, and, yes, you're going to want some pock-marked focaccia with truffle butter ($7) to collect what's left on your plate.
Bread also comes in handy with a starter snack of fat white beans flecked with lemon zest and shaved bottarga ($14), the deliciously salty, yet delicate, cured fish roe found in every Sardinian osteria. Later, scallops and squid are served fritto misto-style ($29) in a batter punched up with the umami bomb of Japanese dashi salt. Do it.
Top marks to the ravioli di gamberi ($34) for adding to a global dialogue on the price of Asian food versus Italian. Members of the food cognoscenti are increasingly asking why ravioli and tortellini demand respectable, nay high prices in Western restaurants, while Asian dumplings are demoted to "cheap eats". It's a fair question worthy of thorough discussion: it's all stuffed dough at the end of the day.
Pellegrino contributes to the conversation – knowingly or not – with five "ravioli" of springy prawns swaddled in wonton wrappers (!) swimming in brown butter and sage. Silky, nutty and multi-textured, it might be the best dish on the menu.
Main courses don't stray quite as far from the script, and butterflied quail saltimbocca ($42) is rich enough to share between two, thanks to a lip-sticking wallop of marsala sauce.
Does the package live up to the hype that preceded the late February opening? Yes. It's a smart and stylish operation from a team at the top of its game.
A window seat is hard to leave. Does Surry Hills need another Italian restaurant? Er, no, not really. By my count, there are nine more in the suburb and four of them are worth crossing postcodes for.
But then, I don't need another calico tote, either, but I keep checking Pellegrino's website to find out when theirs will be available again. At least if I do happen to nab Sydney's hottest new fashion accessory, I can say I've been to the restaurant, too.
Vibe: Buzzy neighbourhood trattoria
Go-to dish: Ravioli di gamberi ($34)
Drinks: Mostly easy-drinking, left-field Italian wines with a strong showing of Australian and French drops. Serious amaro and grappa for after dessert.
Cost: About $180 for two, excluding drinks
This review was originally published in Good Weekend magazine