10 July 2010

Berta: New Italian kid on the block, Sydney (9 July 2010)

17-19 Alberta Street, Sydney NSW 2010

Italian with a side of noise

Having only just been opened for about a month Berta is buzzing with the usual inner city devotees of another Melbourne-style restaurant. It's certainly the talk of the town at the moment and it seems MasterChef Matt Preston is back again after only visiting last week. In contrast to Terry Durack's SMH Good Living review Matt Preston was quite reserved tonight in the well-lit corner table and pretty much kept to himself and his dining guests including MasterChef judge George Calombaris until a group of three girls later in the night came up to talk to him about them being bumped from their table in place of him — perhaps they should have been given a free meal for the inconvenience.

The two most noticeable things once you've entered via the quiet dodgy backstreet is the noise created by the packed-in diners and the huge mirrors reflecting the buzzing atmosphere of the restaurant. It has a cosy feel to the place as long as you don't mind the noise. I had trouble working out what the menu items would actually be because of it's very non-descriptive explanation of cooking style. In terms of wine our group chose the lowest common denominator pricing point of the 2008 Mareema Toscana Sangiovese Morellino ($36/bottle) which was quite nice with decent depth of flavour and we ended up having two.

Starting with large sized Formaggi ($30) of three cheeses it was immediately apparent how tiny the pieces of cheese were. The three styles were nice but for $30 it was hard not to feel like it was well overpriced — especially when you compare to the Pocket Bar cheese plate for under $20 which comes with larger slices, salami and massive olives. Most of us don't even appreciate the side condiments of pear, rosemary honey and beetroot which distract from the true taste of the cheese — less fancy sides and more cheese please! Again the dish of Cuttlefish zucchini preserved lemon ($9) is small but quite flavoursome and works well. Grissini and olives ($8) are tasty but are mostly small olives which aren't the easiest to pick out elegantly from the oily bowl. Scallops wugna breadcrumbs ($4.50 each) are a highlight for me — more please, but it would end up being quite an expensive meal. Silky smooth Chicken liver pate bergamino ($16) is another highlight for the table although wished it came with plain baguette or sourdough bread rather than the very thin crisp bread which I find contrasts too much.

The most overpriced dish of the night for me was the Clams tomato chilli ($24). How expensive are clams? I'm sure they're not that much with some tomato and chilli. The sauce was quite tasty though soaked up with the bread but I found some of the tiny clams a little grainy so possibly not cleaned thoroughly enough? I would love to have this sauce with some decent sized mussels, now that would be both easier to share and better value. The Jerusalem artichokes brussels pancetta ($14) was quite popular and tasty. Loved the crispy pancetta in the dish as long as they don't overcook the brussels. I quite liked the Snapper lentils salsa verde ($22) but I wouldn't really consider this a sharing type of dish. Polenta mushrooms taleggio ($18) is quite filling and contains some pretty yummy mushrooms but again if you're sharing it's a bit of a lucky dip what you'll end up with. Finally for dessert we're tempted by the Baked custard ($12) but it's mandarin sauce is a bit too strong for some of our liking, I didn't mind it but the presentation is a bit overly rustic. We all thought it was a slab of chicken paté when brought to the table with the low lighting and didn't quite resemble what we were expecting.

Other Berta reviews:
Food, booze and shoes
Fooderati: Put It In Your Mouth
SMH Good Living by Terry Durack

PROS: Interesting dishes, Tasty ingredients, Nice wine (although quite expensive per bottle), Friendly and knowledgeable service
CONS: Enter via dark and dirty alley way, Emperor's new clothes makes it popular, No bookings, No BYO, Very noisy, Small sized dishes so doesn't suit large groups to share
MUST TRY: Scallops sugna breadcumbs, Chicken liver pate bergamino

Formaggi $30 (3 cheeses)

Cuttlefish zucchini preserved lemon $9

Grissini and olives $8

Scallops sugna breadcumbs $4.50 each

Chicken liver pate bergamino $16

Clams tomato chilli $24

Jerusalem artichokes brussels pancetta $14

Snapper lentils salsa verde $22

Polenta mushrooms taleggio $18

Baked custard $12

2008 Mareema Toscana Sangiovese Morellino $36 (bottle)

Food menu

Wine menu by the glass

MasterChef judges Matt Preston and George Calombaris sit in the well-lit corner table

Mirror mirror on the wall

Bar and kitchen

Kitchen view from entrance corridor

Room with no view

The bill for 5

Rustic stamped business card

Entrance door

Alberta Street

View Larger Map
Berta on Urbanspoon


http://abebedorespgondufo.blogs.sapo.pt/ said...

Very Good.

Madam Wu said...

It sounds well over-priced for such rustic presentation and food. I would be disappointed with the serving of cheese too. I could eat that whole wedge in about 2 bites. The snapper looked awesome though. Great photos as usual, including your sneaky one of Matt!

Forager @ The Gourmet Forager said...

Sounds nice but waaaaay too overpriced. I'm outraged at how much they're charging for some of those dishes. Those clams certainly were less than $5 in market value.

john@heneedsfood said...

Ok this looks and sounds like a place well worth avoiding if you want something worth half the price you have to pay for it. $30 for three scant slices of cheese and a few condiments says the restaurant is paying too much for produce or Berta's profits are lingering around 600%
No thanks

Zina @ tastedbytwo said...

I've been really keen to try Berta (especially after reading so many rave reviews). It's a little disappointing to hear that the dishes are so overpriced. This is the problem with alot of restaurants in Sydney: 90% hype, 10% decent food. There's no reason a handful of clams should cost $30!

Tina said...

Ooh - you had lots of food!

Tis a bit pricey if you need a full feed... I saw people struggling to share the snapper when I went too.

I would almost call it a wine bar with food, as opposed to a proper restaurant restaurant.

Simon Food Favourites said...

hi abpg, thanks for the comment. that's a funny beer ad on your blog for Carling Beer :-)

hi madam wu, i think the cheese is perhaps enough for 1 or 2 but any more than that it's slim pickings. at $30 it's hard not to feel a bit short of change. i think you'll like the snapper. i think matt was placed at a table where we could be seen by all in the restaurant.

hi forager, the clams used remind me of pippis. perhaps they were? i think if the clams came with pasta like they do at Il Baretto then it probably would have been more like a dish worthy of the price.

hi john, i think you're on to something. i'm sure it's about the profits or perhaps their overheads are way too much. Dare I say it 'Emperor's New Clothes'. the latest and new places in Sydney do tend to get a lot of traffic in the first few weeks but it'll be interesting to see how it lasts when more reasonable priced eateries start popping up or when people start going back to their usual favourites.

hi zina, keep me posted how you go if you try. new sydney restaurants tend to have a lot of hype as you say, it's just what Sydney loves it seems. going to the latest and greatest, whether it be good or bad. don't get me wrong, the food is nice in itself and they do it quite well, but it won't suit everyone's pricing point. i liked the food better than my one visit to vini http://simonfoodfavourites.blogspot.com/2009/04/vini-27-march-2009.html

hi tina, that snapper is definitely not a share item but as a dish on it's own it's quite lovely. i think you're right, it's more a wine bar with food rather than a restaurant restaurant. the size of the small tables is pretty much a give away. you can't really fit much on the table after your glasses and cutlery. the tables are definitely not designed for sharing dishes. and if they expect people to share dishes then there needs to be some improvement on how some of the dishes can be shared very easily.

Sarah said...

Contrary to the other comments made, I think Berta is reasonably priced - it's about the same prices as Bloodwood, and I much prefer the food here! Shame about the cheese plate. You should try the Buffalo Milk Gelato if you visit again - it's divine! I really enjoyed the Baked Chestnut Custard as well. And the Campari Sorbet Cocktail. Yum-o.

Simon Food Favourites said...

hi sarah, i've yet to try Bloodwood but it's on my wish list. hope to try the desserts next time if i go again. i think for quality of food and great value i think one of the best places i've visited in Sydney is Cafe Sopra part of Fratelli Fresh. :-)

Ben said...

Agree, went to Berta last night, ok food but way overpriced and not worth the hype. Just be glad you didn't order the bisteca at 'market price' - turned out to be $60. Fairly sure you wouldn't pay that at the market.

We couldn't see the blackboard from where we were and no printed menus. It might be 'very Melbourne' but it's just too hard basket when you're paying $175 for three dishes and a few drinks.

Simon Food Favourites said...

hi ben, thanks for letting me know how your experience was. certainly still sounds like a very expensive dining experience and quite popular for sydneysiders to try it at least once to make up their own mind about it's worth.

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