Recreating a neighbourhood stalwart in a suburb with no real community heart is a tough task. The flurry of suits that blow in and out at lunch time, the tourists tracking back from Circular Quay hungry for an arvo snack, and the Friday after-work cheese and wine crowds all are a far cry from the loyal locals you see at Newtown's Continental Deli.
But, even so, the boys behind the neighbourhood deli-cum-bar — Head Chef Jesse Warkentin, General Manager Mikey Nicolian and Porteno's Joe Valore and Elvis Abrahanowicz — have managed to successfully transplant a bit of their neighbourhood charm to Continental's new Phillip Street location in the CBD.
"Since we opened Newtown, we've continued to hear that the only problem is that there isn't one in every neighbourhood," says Nicolian. "So, we wanted to bring it to as many people as we could."
Menu-wise, much remains the same. You'll still find artisanal cheeses, an outrageous list of charcuteries, the steak tartare with Parmigiano-Reggiano and some sandwiches at lunch. And although pasta dishes such as the rigatoni with broccolini, cuttlefish and sausage have been added, it's not the main focus.
"Having pasta is not that big a difference," insists Nicolian. "It's something that we love and it fits our identity but we're definitely not a pasta joint."
And of course, Continential Deli CBD is a champion of conservas, particularly seafood. Offering everything from anchovies to canned clams and Continental's own tinned Fremantle occy.
"It's a pretty cool world to explore once you get into them," says Nicolian. "It can be as approachable as you like, with sardines for example or you can go as extravagant as you like with something like baby eel at $87. It's not cat food."
The drinks are a little daintier (although Continental's still play on classics) with elegant glassware to match. Canned cocktails such as the famed Mar-tinny, Can-hattan and Cosmopoli-tin are still very much available with a new one in the works, the Ameri-can-o. Plus, the wine list's six times the size.
The fit-out, designed by co-owner Sarah Doyle, has a refined Euro bistro touch with the New York accents of Art Deco posters and dark wood and leather chairs. Round tables fill the restaurant section by the open deli and kitchen with a 16-seat marble top bar on the other side of what Nicolian calls "the wall of wine."
Sure, the one-level, open-plan space is different to Newtown's split-level terrace, but it echoes the same familial sentiment.
"It's a different environment [to Newtown] but the backbone of the place is still very closely linked," notes Nicolian. "It's a homely environment. You want people to feel at home."
Images: Kitti Smallbone