4 Palings Lane
Sydney, NSW 2000
Bar Topa is the type of wine bar that doesn’t exist in Sydney. It feels delightfully hidden and spontaneous, with a genuine sense of personality, rather than part of a soulless metropolis. So it’s pretty ironic that Bar Topa is actually a brick in the Merivale empire, but hey, you can’t choose your parents. With a very traditional menu of Spanish snacks made for lingering over, this is the kind of place I can see myself dropping in on after work for a nibble and a drink, before heading off to whatever fun I have planned for the night (theoretically anyway; I’ve yet to meet a doctor that finishes on time).
Rating: 14.5/20 – fake sydney (in the best way).
The disappointing bit: apparently the menu rarely changes, with the exception of a couple of uninspiring specials.
“The Bocacadillo de Calamares ($17) is a sandwich!” Warns our waitron. But she needn’t have worried – that was exactly what I was after. I had first come across this little gem of a snack at MoVida, but this one is – dare I say it – even better. Tender calamari seared over the grill so there’s just that little bit of crispiness at the edges, creamy sauce interspersed with sharp bites of pickled peppers, and a soft yet substantial bun. This was simple, but everything about it was done right.
The special of Olive Croqueta ($5.5ea) was a nice little treat with great texture, ideal for downing with a drink.
The other special was a Pork Neck Skewer ($10), which really benefited from the grill over which most of the cooking seemed to be done. The meat was juicy and succulent, with a seductive smokiness you can only get from an open flame.
If you like gawking at other diners’ choices as much as I do, then it’ll become obvious that the Mushroom and Yolk ($16) is a favourite all around the dining room. As a mushroom fan, this is basically heaven on a plate: juicy mushrooms grilled with an indecent amount of garlic and herbs, baptised with lots of good olive oil, plenty of cheese, and a golden egg yolk to pull it all together. Mop it up with a slice of baguette, and it’s honestly one of the most delicious things I can think of to eat.
The mushrooms were a hard act to follow, but the Prawns ($14) did a good job. Once again, this was simple but well done, the prawns plump and sweet in their bath of garlic and paprika-spiked olive oil.
I had wanted steak, but I had also wanted dessert, so Lamb Cutlet ($13) it was. On the upside, it was an expertly grilled bit of meat, served with a very on-point salsa verde. On the downside, it convinced me that the steak must also be fantastic, and just made me all the more sad I didn’t have space for it.
But saving room for the Cheesecake ($11) was the right move, because it was the perfect example of a Basque-styled cheesecake. Boasting a caramelised crust and a beautifully smooth and creamy centre with just the right amount of tang, this is a dessert that’s simultaneously indulgent yet light.
And if you’re a fan of tipples, Bar Topa also does my new favourite thing – half-sized cocktails. Grab yourself a Negroni ($8), which although small, is impressively strong.