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:
• 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
Scallops sugna breadcumbs $4.50 each
Wine menu by the glass
MasterChef judges Matt Preston and George Calombaris sit in the well-lit corner table
Room with no view
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