The historic space at 10 Neild Avenue has left a bit of a black mark on the Sydney restaurant scene, with both celebrity chef Robert Marchetti's Neild Avenue and Keystone Group's Rushcutters closing after just brief stints in the location. But, not to be deterred, chef Paola Toppi and co. have taken on the enormous Rushcutters Bay warehouse. About 30 years ago she and her mum opened Machiavelli Ristorante, a Sydney institution that championed Italian home cooking, and this newest venture is an extension of the Machiavelli brand.
The focus here is on antipasto and homemade pasta, which is a pretty appealing combination. But is it the right fit for a grand venue with a pretty grand price point? I'm not sure. Even though simple Italian food is harder to achieve than many realise, paying a fair amount of money for it can feel extortionate — especially in an area like Sydney, where so many good options are readily available and expectations are always high.
The huge warehouse space has been reimagined by a deft hand in design Jason Mowen, who's used lighting, acoustics and creative flair to turn the previously cavernous and austere room into something quite appealing. He's used dark bare timber tables and some well-placed tall lamps to create a warm glow in what could easily be an open, cold atmosphere, and a mural coupled with cinematic images projected onto the high bare brick walls creates a fun, unpretentious feel to it all.
There's an energetic hum from the clientele, who are mostly the kind of folks who pop into Catalina for a bite to eat on a Tuesday. The service is mostly attentive and enthusiastic, particularly behind the bar; they're keen sellers of items from their signature cocktail list, which includes the fresh and sharp peach and whisky number the Impeachment, and a surprisingly good take on a Negroni.
As for the food, it's a bit of a hit and miss affair. On one hand, Machiavelli has some of the best salumi in town; the culatello, for example, with burrata and figs ($29) is perfect. Baked scallops with cream and white wine ($6 each) are delicious and a trio of carpaccio is generous. The octopus with capers, olives and potato ($24) however, is a little floury in texture and needed a good bit of seasoning.
The pasta, which is served in pretty big portions and is beautifully made, has moments of total loveliness; the chestnut pappardelle with mushrooms ($36), a simple fettuccini with cherry tomatoes and prawns ($39) and a duck ragout with pappardelle ($38) are all hits. The misses are anything with a beurre blanc sauce, like pappardelle with crab meat ($44) or a prawn and mushroom ravioli ($44). It's too heavy for the delicate shellfish on both occasions; the texture of the sauce is too thin and lacks a much-needed dose of acid. A porcini mushroom risotto with black truffle ($49) doesn't hit the mark either — it's dry and the truffles are lacking in aroma.
The desserts too are a bit of a miss. A tiramisu comes cream-heavy with dry sponge fingers and a profiterole with ice cream resembles something out of an '80s cookbook, rather than a modern Sydney restaurant that projects Leo DiCaprio onto the walls. Bar Machiavelli is buzzing with hype and patronage at the moment, but it'll be a test of time to see if the Machiavelli name can live on in its newest palatial home.