Straight up: MOLO is turning out some of the best Italian fare we've had in Sydney. Located on the wharf at Woolloomooloo, the new aperitivo wine bar is part of fine diner Manta — it's technically a pop-up, but one that's meant to stick around long-term.
The small bar is set outdoors, but with heaters to keep guests cosy on the impending winter nights. The entire operation is gloriously simple, from the tables and chairs to the stemless wine glasses and the food on offer. The cicchetti are a great example of this — think next-level provolone and spicy pimento peppers with thin slices of Australian-produced prosciutto that bests any co-owner Riccardo Bernabei found in Italy. He's looking to continue to source more and more produce from Australia; their bread is already specially made for the restaurant by Tramsheds' Dust Bakery.
Though MOLO shares Manta's executive chef Daniel Hughes and head chef Steve Hetherington, the menu is a distinct departure from the restaurant next door in that it is not only a seasonal one but is also very specifically dictated by available produce. On our visit, we are lucky enough to be two of three people to try some extremely rare wild-grown porcini mushrooms that have been foraged in Adelaide that same morning. The chef serves these delicate, soft mushrooms on crostini with parmigiana and just-pressed, still-cloudy olive oil. This simple combo is a prime example of how MOLO's dishes let the produce speak for itself; along with the central element, they tend to only contain three to four other ingredients, with the requisite salt, pepper and olive oil making regular appearances.
Though the idea is to drop by for a bite and a drink, the menu is certainly substantial enough to serve as a full meal, especially for those who like to pick from a variety of dishes. Order the impossibly creamy buffalo burrata topped with Swedish caviar ($32) and Cantabrian sardines served with Italian butter and extra olive oil for drizzle ($18). The ricotta with zucchini and Sicilian anchovy ($17) is a truly balanced dish — the incredibly fresh cheese is punched up by the salty anchovy, then finished off with a spicy-sweet hit of paper-thin zucchini that's then topped with house-made chilli flakes. The current menu also features a dish of shaved Venetian white asparagus ($19) that's only in season until June — it's worth rushing to MOLO just to try this.
But this is a bar, after all, and the wine list is expertly curated by Mario Mondo, who really knows how to pair the list with the ever-changing food menu. Specialty wines include a Franciacorta — similar to Champagne in that it is certified to only be produced in a specific region — and an extremely exclusive wine from Salina. This tiny Aeolian Island wine region produces volcanic wine that has a dry, mineral characteristic on the nose and palate and pairs beautifully with the sardines.
The mentality at MOLO is that "the produce will write the menu" and — much like their food — this simple concept says a lot with little. We just hope this pop-up turns into something permanent.