A Tavola, Darlinghurst

Ever since appearing on Italian Food Safari and seeing the real way to make amazing Spaghetti Vongole I have been dying to try this place.  I knew it was a cosy little restaurant centred around a communal table, and I also knew that it is seriously popular.  Both I found to be true when I visited!   The large marble communal table is in fact the very bench where the chef makes handmade pasta daily as we are told by the waiter. In fact, it is so produce driven that there are only a few permanent menu items, printed on a piece of paper and tucked neatly into your napkin.  The rest – actually, most of the menu, is repeated and described individually to everyone by the poor waiter.   It was strange actually, bcos the specials menu was actually quite a bit more expensive than the regular menu, strange given that I would have thought that in season food would be cheaper to source.  The regular menu is more Italian cucina pricing whilst the specials is more your fine dining ($35+ for mains).  So we hedged our bets, obviously!

When you are seated, you are presented with some fresh made foccacia and chilli oil for dipping. Nice. The bread is so soft and fluffy with a just lightly crispy crust with a slight oily texture to the touch.  The chilli oil could have done with a bit more of a kick for my liking, but that’s just me, and would most probably have masked the bread!

So for entrees, I had the salami entree.  It was $14, and I was a bit disappointed with its simplicity.  Three slices of salami lightly fried served on a bed of polenta.  A bit more polenta would have been great – or at least another carb provided or even a veg, as the salami is very full bodied and salty to have on its own.

What I should have gotten was the scallops from the specials menu, served with roasted baby beets including my new favourite thing – heirloom varieties, so pretty!  The dish was scattered with pomegranite seeds and served with rocket.  Good to have the balance of veges, and you have to agree – such a pretty plating up, which contrasts to the rustic simplicity of the normal menu. Are you getting the contrast?  The scallops would not look out of place at a three hat restaurant!

For mains – we only had two courses each because we were in a hurry for the theatre – again , a tale of two menus!  I chose the ragu which I was informed was veal, pork and chicken. Yum.  I was confused as this arrived in front of me – the meat was minced instead of slow cooked chunks :(   It was a HUGE serving! Yum though! But as I continued to eat it, it sat in a pool of red oil – it certainly wasn’t low fat… probably a bit too much oil that perhap could have been better off integrated into the sauce so that it doesn’t split out.  Having said that, the pasta was cooked perfectly.

And once again, food envy – as my friend’s lamb ragu was exactly what I expected mine to be like!!  Melt in your mouth lamb chunks stirred through delicate thin ribbons of hand made parpadelle!!

I guess what you get for an extra $10 is hand made pasta and also real tender meat.  :(  I was really really surprised though, I would have expected the regular menu to be better!  I hesitate to want to pay $34 for a pasta dish though.   In short, if you do go, do yourself a favour and go for the specials menu which is ironically better than the regular menu.

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