One of Darlinghurst's most talked-about Italian restaurants is tucked inside a cute corner terrace on Stanley and Riley Street.
If you've ever wondered how variety can be the spice of life if simplicity is the ultimate in sophistication, it will do you good to head along to Sagra, one of Darlinghurst's most talked about Italian restaurants tucked inside a cute corner terrace on Stanley and Riley Street. With a juicy reputation in and around the eastern suburbs for unpretentious, humble Italian like Nonna used to make, on a menu that changes daily, you’ll soon understand how tasty this so-called paradox can be.
Literally translating to 'festival' (of the small town variety), Sagra is owned and operated by head chef Nigel Ward (Lucio’s, Sean’s Panaroma and Trullo in London), and it’s safe to say the main attraction here, apart from the thoroughly inviting home-like and sparse-yet-still-cosy interior, is his philosophy of seasonally inspired food without the frills. Throw in traditional and cheeky Italian service with a genuine appreciation of the dishes in-hand, as well as knowledge of wines back home from The Boot, and you’ve got yourself plenty of reasons to nab a space at one of the 11 or 12 tables scattered inside. Luckily, you can book.
When in Rome we began with a Negroni ($15) as we munched on the complimentary house-made bread and plump Sicilian green olives. Then one of the few long-term dishes made its way to our mouths: garlic soup (if, like on our visit, this isn’t displayed on the menu, definitely ask). Made from pureed Aussie cloves and olive oil, pepper, bread and cheese, this friendly little bowl packs a punch without any aftermath, smacking fellow diners in the face via your breath and their nostrils.
The visible menu is divided between antipasti, primi (pasta) and secondi (main courses usually in the form of one meat and one fish). Skipping the antipasti in favour of the aforementioned favourite, we moved onto the pappardelle ($17) mingled with mascarpone, rocket and 'nduja (spreadable, spicy pork sausage) and some seriously good malfatti in sage butter (blob-like pasta balls literally meaning “badly formed”). Both dishes were perfectly proportioned, leaving plenty of room for the pork ($31), gemfish ($29) and rosemary potatoes ($7) that followed. The pig was tender and accompanied well with cabbage and verjuice salsa, while the thick white fish kept its natural flavour alongside cauliflower and heirloom carrots. Wine-wise our waiter helped us out with a powerful bottle of Italian Nebbiolo from the Piedmont region (also not on the menu). As we say here in Oz: too easy.
At the end of the night and a little time poor, in search of something sweet we sadly had to substitute the house-made ice cream with a shot of thoroughly satisfying house-made lemoncello. But to be honest, after a couple of hours eating, drinking and generally being as merry as those fabulous Italians themselves, we’re not ashamed to admit “in search of something sweet” actually meant finding any excuse not to leave. Hey, simple variety. We love it.