Balla's Milanese cuisine is fresh and seasonal served with a side of harbourside view.

In a week it will be the one-year anniversary of the opening of Balla at the Star. Italian-born chef Stefano Manfredi was lured away from his hatted central coast restaurant, Manfredi at Bells last year, when the Star offered him the chance to create a restaurant from scratch, replete with a roof top garden.

This Milanese 'osteria' (translating as 'traditional restaurant'), is headed up by chef Gabriele Taddeucci (ex Ucello and then Beresford). He shares Manfredi's dedication to fresh, seasonal produce and their commitment was rewarded this year with a chef's hat in the Good Food Awards – no doubt a welcome birthday present for the restaurant.

The place is physically striking, overlooking Jones Bay Wharf, it's decked out with bursting wine racks, pillars covered in mosaics and golden studio-blown glass lights from Seattle glass artist Dante Marioni.

We started dinner with some mild Bresaola ($11), cured in-house and proudly displayed in the front window. This farmhouse meets casino affair can be confusing but is ultimately the best of two worlds: high end bling and home-made comfort. Our other starter, the salad of mozzarella, artichoke and dried tomatoes ($22) was an interesting variation on the Caprese salad, with the artichokes adding an extra element of richness to the classic.

For those who have never quite understood the point of the iPad (too big to make calls, too small for a disk drive) it appears Balla has found the iPad's true purpose as a wine list. While I would generally say that electronic devices do not belong at the dinner table, this use of the tablet is perfectly respectable and a win for trees the world over. We opted for the medium bodied Gulfi Rossojbleo Nero d'Avola, a peppery match to our venison and rabbit.

One of Manfredi's signature dishes, the venison ($42) is an unusual number, served with white polenta, chocolate and raisins. This lean meat is usually served rare for fear of toughness, but Manfredi's team have averted that scenario by treating the meat to a good few hours in the water bath before braising – rendering it tender as any beef cheek. The pine nuts thrown in the mix provide additional texture and sweetness.

The rabbit loin ballotine ($45) with black truffle and seasonal mushrooms is, dare I say it, perfect. For an animal that for some reason often finds itself served on the dry side of dry, this dish is a wonderful moment in the humble rabbit's culinary history.

Considering that Balla is situated at the pointy end of town where spending money is a recreation, it has some extremely reasonable offers available. The two-course $49 Long Lunch including a glass of wine would be a great option for a work function or a Christmas lunch, or the two-course $55 pre-theatre menu would be an excellent start to an evening at the Lyric theatre.

Published on September 17, 2012 by Jessica Keath

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