50 Holt St
Surry Hills, NSW 2010
Bastardo both looks and smells the part of a traditional Italian restaurant, but like the name suggests, they have a little more fun with the menu here than your stuffy, old-fashioned eatery. Don’t get me wrong – the food is real-deal Italian for sure, but you’ll find some ingredients and combinations that aren’t quite dime-a-dozen. Service is equally as vivacious, but most of the time, they just leave you to your own devices and let you enjoy the good food and good vibes.
Rating: 14/20 – son of a gun.
You could order the house bread, but you’d be better off getting the Pizza Fritta ($10ea) instead. Not only do you get chewy, carby goodness, you also get it deep fried to a golden puff, and topped with sweet tomato passata and fat anchovies. It’s a great snack washed down with a light, sweet vermouth, such as the Levi Serafino Bianco ($17)
Crispy Zucchini Flowers ($10ea) are low-hanging fruit, and these largely capitalise off the fact that deep-frying cheese almost always pans out well. I couldn’t taste much of the promised spicy honey, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy this little bite.
If like me, you weren’t keen on ordering the Spring Bay Mussels ($24) because you assumed it’s yet another plate of shellfish cooked in spicy nduja broth – delicious, but predictable – let me stop you right there. Instead, this is plump mussels on a bed of the most decadently buttery, cheesy pearl couscous ever. Admittedly, I would like a little more nduja in the mix (I know – picky, aren’t I), but when each bite is slick with good quality olive oil, there isn’t much reason to complain.
The Casarecce ($36) however was a very easy pick. The combination of braised duck and porcini mushrooms is an absolute umami bomb, and the little twists of pasta were perfect for soaking up that sticky, decadent sauce. It’s fancy and comforting all at once.
The accompanying Fennel Salad ($13) is an odd one. The chopped up bits of vegetable feel rather haphazard, and the dressing was too oily without enough acidity to balance it out. The herby fennel and juicy oranges were a good counterbalance to the rich duck pasta, but I think I’ll be taking credit for my choice in sides, rather than giving it to the salad itself.