50 Holt St Surry Hills, NSW 2010
|Opening hours||Tue-Fri noon-late; Sat 5pm-late|
|Phone||02 9212 7766|
This is the story of a young Sydney restaurant team maturing into its second stage. It's a story of slow burn, constant refinement, pride, and a sense of relief at not being the new kids in town any more. They're even looking forward to a distant future in which they will, inevitably, be the old-schoolers.
The original foursome, Elvis Abrahanowicz, Sarah Doyle, Joseph Valore and Ben Milgate, opened Bodega 13 years ago, and went on to build Porteno and Continental, taking on partners with Stanbuli, Bella Brutta and LP's Quality Meats.
Now they have replanted Bodega from its two-roomed Commonwealth Street digs to the long narrow Wyno wine bar, still in their Surry Hills heartland. It seems more a future-proofing than a demotion.
The long, 28-seat communal table runs down the middle of what was once 121 BC, ending in an expanded but still tiny kitchen. Bodega's colourful matador mural has been chopped up into graphic squares and hung on the wall, because as Valore says "it wouldn't feel home without it".
Bodega manager Coco Cox also made the move, as did Bodega's fish fingers ($16 for 2). I'm pleased to report the marinated kingfish, cuttlefish ceviche and whoosh of grated mojama (salt-cured tuna) on charred fingers of sourdough taste as fresh as they did in 2006. Exemplary focaccia ($3) and a platter of jamon ($12), smoky, gypsy-like ham from Petersham's Lazar's Butchery, make a great match.
With just eight savoury and two sweet dishes, it's a tight menu. Portions are more raciones than tapas, and dishes seem put together more for flavour than looks; another sign of maturity, perhaps.
Fried oyster and shimeji mushrooms with parmesan cream and a fried egg are so likeable, you hoover them up without caring that they are too brown to Instagram. Thick chunks of Spanish mackerel from fisherman Mark Eather ($38), cooked so the proteins are just set and rested, are grounded by a bed of soupy white beans with raw cime di rape.
The Bodegans' special affinity with meat shows in grilled, tender Cape Grim ox tongue ($20) lushed up with soft lengths of leek and a creamy tuna sauce. Talk about wine-friendly. Grilled salchicha ($24), a long thin coil of house-made Argentinian pork sausage, rests in a rosy sauce of pear cider, pork broth, onions, dried orange peel and paprika that manages to evoke the flavour notes of wine as much as those of food.
Sommelier Gavin Wright has a great love of adventurous wines that come with stories and dreams that transport you to different time zones around the world.
Steering him away from the overly weird, I hit up a ripe, savoury 2018 Mayer Yarra Valley gamay ($24) and a fragrant, juicy, fleshy Arnaud Lambert Saumur (Breze) 'Clos Tue-Loop' from the Loire ($24). Pourings are generous, but there are cheaper wines, thank the lord.
The wood-fired oven at Porteno next door is enough cause to order a wedge of monochromatic Basque cheesecake ($12), nicely blackened outside with a snowy white mix of cream cheese and Meredith goat's cheese within.
The Bodegans themselves are in the kitchen and on the floor. "We just like being here" they tell me. With the simple sophistication of their wine-focused cooking, generous cellar and well-mannered service, don't we all.
Vegetarian: Generally three plant-based, wine-friendly options.
Drinks: What you see (in the glass-fronted, walk-in cellar) is what you get – a deep, broad and adventurous range of global wines via Gavin Wright and Joe Valore.
Go-to dish: "Salchicha" pork sausage with cider sauce, $24.
Pro tip: All wines are, amazingly, available by the glass. Like what you try? Buy a bottle to take home.