135 King St
Newtown, NSW 2042
Dinner at Bella Brutta was an impromptu affair. Or rather, as impromptu as my highly-considered dining plans get. I hadn’t even heard of Bella Brutta until earlier in the week, but after a couple of veteran Sydney bloggers described the clam pizza as one of their favourite pizzas in recent memory, I was sold. I immediately made a booking for the same Friday – my curiosity proved too much for me to wait any longer.
As it turns out, Bella Brutta actually opened with quite a bit of hype around it. With alumni from the well-regarded LP’s Quality Meats and Porteno behind its conception, it’s definitely worth your while to grab a booking, as the long, skinny room fills up fast once everyone gets off work. I’m personally not a fan of the sparseness of the décor, as it does nothing to dampen down the Friday night exuberance, but the charming and knowledgeable staff had won me over by the time our order had been taken.
Bella Brutta has my favourite type of menu – the options are whittled down to a succinct list that fits on an A5 page with room to spare, but it’s a list that’s been curated so carefully that it proved incredibly difficult not to just get one of everything. With the help of our waiter, we decided on a couple of starters and a pizza, and plans for dessert. The Burrata ($12) may look sparse, but don’t let appearances fool you – this is probably the best burrata I’ve ever had.
Cut through the stretchy, almost squeaky exterior of mozzarella, and you’ll be rewarded with a gush of thick, creamy stracciatella, seasoned with just the right amount of salt. The richness was offset by a drizzle of sharp, fruity olive oil and a crack of black pepper, and it was frankly good enough to eat with a spoon.
The Duck Terrine ($20) was almost the opposite of the burrata, with its complex and occasionally unexpected palate, but it was certainly just as good. The first surprise came in the form of a sharp, almost botanical note of orange running through the meaty, pistachio-studded terrine. Another surprise was the sinfully delicious layer of smoked duck skin wrapped around, adding a deep woodiness to counter the bright citrus. And finally, the surprisingly punchy apple mustard that was all sorts of sweet and tangy, and did a wonderful job of contrasting the richness of the terrine without overshadowing it. I was very impressed with the imagination behind the unorthodox elements of this terrine, and even more so with how well it all came together.
And the guest of honour – the Clam Pizza ($30). This is definitely nothing like I’ve ever had before; the combination of clam reduction, pecorino, and roasted garlic was almost unbearably umami. The generous amount of parsley and lemon lighten things up considerably, and what you end up with is an incredibly decadent, yet balanced pizza. I may be a purist who thinks you can’t improve on the perfection of a Margherita, but this makes for a fascinating change.
The crust however I am a bit more ambivalent on. The toppings were rather too saucy for the paper-thin Neapolitan-styled base, and as a result I had to eat this with a knife and fork to stop it flopping about, which in my opinion, takes away half the joy of eating pizza. But when you get to the crust itself, the dough arguably becomes the best part of the entire pizza. Smoky and unusually salty, the blistered base had a soft, malty chew that is miles more delicious than anything else I’ve ever had. But is it worth the soggy base? I might have to try it again before I can make the call…
With just enough room for dessert, I grabbed the Tiramisu ($16) off of a menu that is much heavier on the drinks than it is on the sweets. Just like everything else in this meal, the kitchen shows that they know exactly what they’re doing. Served up in perfect layers, the airy cream alternates beautifully with the whiff of booze, and the rich aroma of espresso. And as a hazelnut lover, I was especially fond of the chopped hazelnuts hidden in the sponge, which gave each spoonful just that little bit of texture, and a decadent nuttiness. This is exactly what you want to finish off an Italian meal.
I hadn’t expected to like Bella Brutta this much. There were a couple small misses during the meal – now is where I mention that we paid $3 for half a piece of sourdough to go with our terrine – and the prices were steep, even for Sydney. Yet somehow, I found myself rather smitten. But then again, Bella Brutta is definitely a cut above most places, with their succinct and well-considered menu that uses top-quality produce simply yet beautifully, and warm, helpful service that seems to be a bit of a rarity around here. Despite being more or less a pizzeria, it’s definitely suitable for something a little more special, and I’m already looking forward to coming back.
Rating: 15/20 – beautiful all the way through.
This rating reflects my personal experience at the time of visit