Sotto Sopra review

Go-to dish: Cacciucco seafood pie.
Go-to dish: Cacciucco seafood pie. Photo: Dominic Lorrimer

316-324 Barrenjoey Rd Newport, NSW 2106

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Opening hours Mon-Thu 5–10:30pm ; Fri-Sun 12–4pm, 5–10:30pm
Features Accepts bookings, Groups, Licensed, Family friendly, Wheelchair access, Bar, Vegetarian friendly, Gluten-free options
Prices Moderate (mains $20-$40)
Payments eftpos, AMEX, Cash, Visa, Mastercard
Phone 02 9997 7009

When people ask me to review more good restaurants on the northern beaches, I always say yes, of course, absolutely. Whenever there are good restaurants on northern beaches, I Will Be There.

So here I am at Sotto Sopra, which means upside-down in Italian, or under and over; referencing the dynamic split-level nature of the tall-ceilinged space.

Perched on a look-at-me corner at the southern end of the Newport strip, Sotto Sopra is the latest offering from Alessandro and Anna Pavoni, co-owner Bill Drakopoulos and Victor Moya of the two-hatted Ormeggio at The Spit.

Mancini spaghetti with black garlic, sardines, chilli and breadcrumbs.
Mancini spaghetti with black garlic, sardines, chilli and breadcrumbs. Photo: Dominic Lorrimer

Diners seated on a polished wooden banquette that follows the vast curve of floor-to-ceiling windows, could be on a cruise ship, having lunch in the sun as the captain sets sail for Portofino. Even better, the glass-encased kitchen appears to float above a handsome escarpment of ridged wood, the chefs overlooking the dining room as if from the ship's bridge.

Unlike the refined, progressive, multi-course menu at Ormeggio, the good ship Sotto Sopra is more about relaxed, rustic trattoria cooking from (mostly) up and (some) down Italy.

At the heart of head chef Mattia Rossi's kitchen is a hefty Italian wood-fired oven with a rotating base from which emerge giant 1.2-kilogram wagyu Fiorentina steaks, pastry-topped seafood pies, chicken cacciatora, wood-roasted potatoes with garlic and rosemary, and whole fish on the bone.

A caramelised mango tart from the wood-fired oven gets all the love.
A caramelised mango tart from the wood-fired oven gets all the love. Photo: Dominic Lorrimer

But first, the creamy salt cod emulsion that is baccala mantecato ($20) comes tucked into a warm, floppy, slightly oily cecina (chickpea pancake), like an oozy Italian quesadilla.

Salumi lovers will flip over a share platter of gently smoked prosciutto with crisp pane carasau flatbread, ripe figs and truffled honey ($22); a wow of a combination.

Supple, lovely pasta – the artisanal Mancini spaghetti from Le Marche – is skilfully coated in a darkly textural sauce of fermented black garlic, laced with marinated sardines, chilli and crisp breadcrumbs ($24).

With vast floor-to-ceiling windows, the venue is reminiscent of a cruise ship.
With vast floor-to-ceiling windows, the venue is reminiscent of a cruise ship. Photo: Dominic Lorrimer

Cacciucco pie is less of a pie and more of a traditional Livornese seafood zuppa topped with a crisp crust of oven-freckled pastry ($38), but no matter. Occy, mussels, fish and fleshy prawns swim around in the enriched tomato sugo, the pastry standing in for the usual grilled bread.

My fault entirely, but everything I order has come with bread, including the Roman-style porchetta, cooked overnight in the oven ($36). It's worth ordering ahead, for the rounds of sweet pork scented with fennel and rosemary, served with salsa verde, tangy red cabbage and Tuscany's answer to focaccia, schiacciata.

The all-Italian wine list comes with plenty of aperitivi and wines by the glass, including a crisp, graceful 2015 Vigna di Gino Verdicchio Classico ($14/$60) that brings out a pig-snuffling-in-the-vineyard quality in the pork.

Wood-oven roasted porchetta with red cabbage and salsa verde.
Wood-oven roasted porchetta with red cabbage and salsa verde. Photo: Dominic Lorrimer

I'm not convinced that the Coravin needle-through-the-cork wine access system has a place at the table, however. It seems gauche, and the wine emerges in a painfully slow trickle.

Staying with the sharing-is-caring theme, a caramelised mango tart ($25 for two) from the wood-fired oven gets all the love. As should Sotto Sopra, for the skilled kitchen, wood-fired oven, great attitude on the floor from Angelo Cristella and team – and for being another good restaurant on the northern beaches.

The low-down

Best bit: Watching the locals lap it up.

Worst bit: Serving hot food on paper underlays.

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.

Go-to Dish: Cacciucco pie, $38.