Disneyland for Meat
Bistecca is a kind of hire wire act as a restaurant; it is in equal parts theatre, bar and restaurant. It’s blurring the borders between art and a place to eat.
Let’s face it – the team at Bistecca know what they are doing and they know who their audience is. From the knock off Langioule steak knives, to the branded peasant Italian café plates – they know what their audience wants and they know how to deliver it. The audience: it’s the well-heeled, cashed up city dweller male that works in the city and will pay for greatness.
I say male advisedly. I was there on a busy Thursday lunch time. Apart from the four young women I was dining with it was a boys’ only environment.
Let’s start with the production elements. It’s hidden, there is a nice sign above a nondescript stairway, leading to a nondescript door, in a nondescript street in the northern end of Sydney’s non-descript CBD.
Once down the stairs and into the bar, you’ve entered a proper Tuscan Restaurant. Small tables, marble topped bar, sturdy wooden chairs, small works of art and a domed brick clad ceiling.
No of course there isn’t really a domed brick clad ceiling. That would be ridiculous – it’s a fake and a good one, because the owners James Bradley and Warren Burns wanted you to think that you hand wandered into an ancient Tuscan Villa, built from stone, sweat and hundreds of years of disappointment and conflict – not a basement in the CBD. And you know what? They pulled it off.
Then there is the theatre. The food process is the theatre.
In the middle of the restaurant is an iron bark fueled fire where the meat goes through the searing, cooking and resting process. Immediately in front of that, is a man with a saw and a slab of beef so large it looks difficult to lift.
This is the T-Bone section of Riverina sourced Chianina Beef. A breed local to Tuscany, imported to Australia and well worth talking about. Because when you think great meat, you are tempted to think Wagyu. But you should, Wagyu is like truffles – too much is like poison.
I want to stop here and talk about Chianina cattle. I come from the Riverina. I’ve seen these animals. They aren’t like your Black Angus or Hereford, or your Murray Grey which populate the area. Well, except for the fact they are grey. These animals are big. I’m 6ft 2 inches tall and a bull which can weigh over 800 kg stands eye to eye with me. It’s different meat and I think the owners were right to choose it – it’s fantastic.
The theatre is that you order your meat by weight (between four of us we had 2.2 kilos – which we swore we wouldn’t finish – but here’s a tip. We did).
The performer with the saw, slices off your steak in what looks like a properly medieval process.
Eating The Food.
This is the best bit. The other stuff is good, but this is world class. I am not joking, I’ve eaten great steaks at the best restaurants, deep in Italy, places where they have been doing it for 200 years, places like Buca Lapi in Florence. The food at Bistecca is just as good.
I went with a group of five – To start we shared the Pecorino + Truffle Honey ($11), Sardines, Raisins and Pine Nuts ($14) and the Fritto Misto ($13).
Our waiter suggested we get two serves of the Pecorino. He was right. Ambrosia. Between you and I, we were all picking the crumbs off out plates. That’s generally a good sign.
The Fritto Misto was shallow deep fried prawns, small pieces of fish and whitebait.
The Sardines were good – but they came in olive oil. I prefer them in a light vinegar – but that’s preference right?
For the main we had the 2 kilos of Bistecca, Radicchio, Pear and Gorgonzola salad, White Beans, Beetroot Ricotta and Burnt Butter Salad, and Roast Potatoes with Salsa Verde.
To finish we shared a Tiramisu. Now we’ve all had Tiramisu, but until you’ve had the house speciality, made with the experience, love and dedication of a Nonna – you haven’t actually had Tiramisu.
We drank 2015 Monte Bernardi Chiante Classico and Negroni on Tap.
So let’s put everything else to the side – all of the sides and the desert were fantastic – and to be honest the White Beans and Tiramisu were standouts, but I want to talk about the steak.
Because of my job in Finance, I eat out a lot, at a lot of places where steak is served and I like it – so I order it. In the past 10 days I’ve had three steaks in three very serious restaurants, and this was the best by far. It’s not even close to funny.
The texture, the taste and the preparation. I’m not sure how to write about it. I don’t want to say that it melts in your mouth – because that’s a cliché, but I would say that eating the meat was more like eating a peach than anything else I can compare it to. Weird analogy, I know, but wait till you try it – then you’ll understand.
Here’s my tip about Bistecca. Don’t eat for the day before hand. Go slightly early so you can sit in the bar and have a Negroni, order deep and long, loosen your belt and enjoy – because places that do it this well and in this kind of style are rare and ought to be celebrated.