Part of the Rydges Hotel, Bar Surry Hills has reopened after a refurbishment, with a shiny new bar and an Italian kitchen. You could almost be forgiven for forgoing this Central side of Albion Street in favour of the trendy trattorie a little further down. But this little spot is quite swish for a hotel kitchen. In fact, the food is just fabulous.
Before you get snooty about its wallpapered partitions, customary jazz music or its kids-friendliness, don't forget that the hotel bistro has many things in its favour: where else can you be served, sans judgement, your lunch at 3pm, dinner at 4pm or a plate of pasta near midnight, and a gin and tonic at all three? Here, the bar is slinky, stylish and accommodating of both lone diners and bustling groups (hip or holidaymaker). Moreover, sometimes you just want to eat your supper without hitting elbows with the stranger beside.
Grab a middy of one of the 12 on-tap beers and try the mixed salumi board, with Italy-sourced prosciutto, sopressa, mortadella, olives and grissini ($18). It's satisfying to watch the chef freshly grate slithers from the hanging meats. The pizza is met with many felice faces: the San Daniele ($16) is the simple bliss of mozzarella, rocket and San Daniele prosciutto.
If you don't overindulge on pizza, the pasta will be your undoing. The pappardelle duck ragu ($20) is delightful. Silky ribbons of pasta are delicately dressed with mushrooms, smoky pecorino and slow-braised duck. The porcini mushroom tortellini ($20) is also good; finished with truffle cream, pecorino and more mushrooms. The truffle is creamy, not cloying, and sweet with its fragrant fungoids. Finish the meal with a coffee, and cannoli ($4) that tastes of Sicily.
This Italian kitchen prides itself on its autentico ingredients, predominately imported from Italy — even the bread and pizza dough is made offshore and baked at Bar Surry Hills. Look, I'm not sure about the frozen-and-posted bread — we have such lovely, locally produced bread! — but you won't hear a peep from me about the flown-over cured meats; the charcuterie and cheese are dreamy.
You're spoiled for choice on this side of town, but what may be missing is the suburban, mama-style pizzeria. Perhaps Bar Surry Hills could become your little, local bistro: the one you imagined sauntering into, greeting the waiter with a double-cheeked kiss and calling a joyous 'ciao!' upon leaving.