Balmain's beloved drinking hole, The Cricketers Arms, has received a much needed makeover. And with the refurbishment, new Italian eatery One Ford Street has appeared — rising, like a glorious pasta phoenix, from the ashes of the old pub.
The intimate dining space, which seats just 50 and is separate from The Arms' public bar, is characterised by its relaxed al fresco interior: dark wooden tables, mismatched chairs and a ceiling embellished with luscious foliage in hanging planters which serve to bring the outside in. The modern Italian menu highlights locally sourced produce, which chef Sam Bennett (ex-Bourke Street Bakery, Glebe Point Diner) says is key. "I really want to bring a style of cooking based on what I was seeing in regional Italy and interpret that here in Australia," he says. "Non-fussy, casual feasting food using amazing, fresh produce."
Drinks wise, the cocktail list is short and simple, showcasing the Italian classics, which arrive ice cool and satisfyingly strong — and provide a lovely buzz for scoping the rest of the menu. On the other side, the wine list is an eclectic collection of affordable Australian and Italian numbers served by the glass.
The menu is unabashedly Italian with a modern twist; we recommend starting with the fresh kingfish carpaccio ($16) sliced thin and doused in the most delectable olive oil and garlic and lightly kissed with bright lemon, or the quail, cabbage and barley stuffed panzerotti ($12), which feel like the traditional sandwich's sexy Mediterranean cousins. The classic tomato salad, with creamy goats' cheese and shards of crispy cheese arrives at the table totally Instagram-ready, and is the perfect example of the potential of just a few simple fresh ingredients. The servings are generously portioned and large enough to share with friends over a few glasses of soft Italian red...but it's totally cool if you just want to chow down solo.
The bass groper with crispy skin ($32) was cooked flawlessly, but the surrounding bed of pippies, cabbage and prosciutto was a little lacklustre, the flavours melting into one light-green, overly salty stew; the buttery fish would have been served better on something a little brighter and crisper. The grass-fed Angus tagliata ($32), however, did not disappoint. A plate laden with generously cleaved rashers of sizzling steak would be considered borderline pornographic to any meat eater with two working eyes, though the choice to plate one of said slices standing erect like some sort of prone meat phallus was a little curious.
As for dessert, the tiramisu eclair ($6) was the veritable edible love child of French and Italian classic desserts, while the 'dropped cheesecake' (read: deconstructed cheesecake) ($14) was the highlight of the dessert brigade. Vanilla biscuit crumble drizzled with strawberry coulis, fresh strawberries, and generous scoops of the lightest cheesecake means that every spoonful becomes an IRL choose your own dessert adventure — and definitely not one to pass up.