3 Dalley St
Sydney, NSW 2000
Bistecca was originally going to be my birthday dinner this year, but then, y’know, Covid happened. Thankfully once the worst of the first wave was over, not only did Bistecca reopen quick-smart, they also started accepting bookings for groups of any size. This was extremely good news, because apparently smaller parties used to have to show up at 4pm to scribble your name on a piece of butcher’s paper on the door, and hope you get a call sometime later that night.
There’s so little fanfare at the entrance of Bistecca that the restaurant itself – after you head through a fire door and down 2 flights of stairs – comes as a shock to the senses. Once the heavy door is pushed open, you’re treated to a sumptuously decorated, European-styled bar. This used to be where you’d wait for your table back in the day when Bistecca didn’t take bookings, but now it just a cosy place to relax with a drink and some snacks.
But wait, that’s not even all of it! The dining room proper is located behind an inconspicuous door behind the bar itself, and has the kind of rustic yet comfortable elegance that only comes with years of history… except Bistecca has only been around for a couple years. The illusion is really rather impressive. The centrepiece of the room is a dramatic open kitchen, where the chefs cleave steaks to order with a handsaw, before slapping them onto a conflagration of ironbark. The whole process is deliciously mesmerising, and as good as theatre.
Now, here’s the thing that about Bistecca that really divides opinions. In order to create an environment for guests to enjoy the experience the way the owners intended, Bistecca is a strictly no technology zone. Upon entering, you are highly recommended to stick your phone into one of the little lockers near the door, and if you do choose to hang onto it, you’re strongly discouraged from using it. The idea behind this is to shift the focus onto the food and company, rather than whatever’s on screen. However in my case, it made taking photos and notes rather awkward. I was coerced into putting my camera away with the promise that I can email them after the meal for professional photos of every dish we had, but the reality wasn’t quite so straightforward, and I ended up with a bunch of media photos mixed in with some quick snaps they took on my request. So if the photos seem inconsistent and alternately significantly better or worse than usual, that’ll be why.
The first order of business (after they’ve divested you of your phone) is to work out how much steak you want. The minimum order is 600g, which is a good amount for 2 people if you’re also planning on a couple of sides and nibbles. Once that’s settled, your steak is carved off an intimidatingly large slab of meat, weighed, and presented for you to inspect and approve. And if you don’t like steak? Well there’s a few non-steak sides and starters on the menu, but this is a Tuscan-styled steak house, and if you’re here, it’s really should be for the Bistecca alla Fiorentina.
A candle for the table? How romantic! Don’t expect this one to add to the ambience for very long however, as it’s actually made with Beef Tallow, and once melted, intended as a dip for the excellent Focaccia. As great as olive oil is, I would take this decadent, artery-clogging goodness over it any day.
The steak takes a little while to come out, which is unsurprising given their size, and the fact that there’s at least one for every table. Thankfully, there are plenty of nibbles to keep you busy in the meantime, which is especially welcome if you’re a fellow (almost) teetotaller. The first was a simple plate of Prosciutto ($11), sliced thicker than usual to allow the velvety texture to shine through along with the smooth nuttiness of the pork. The other plate boated a serving of intoxicatingly fragrant Pecorino, Truffle Honey ($11), the intermingling between the musty, earthy tones of cheese and truffles, and the floral, almost fruity aroma of the honey truly something to behold. Calling it ambrosia may seem like overkill but trust me, it is an apt description.
Ah yes. Here it is. Bistecca Alla Fiorentina ($78, 600g), cooked over a roaring flame of ironbark and charcoal, then sliced and dressed with beef drippings, sea salt, and freshly cracked black pepper. And it is pure joy, each slice cooked to succulent medium-rare, seasoned generously, and edged with a smoky char. Being a low-marbling T-bone steak, it doesn’t have the same buttery texture as wagyu, but is instead characterised by a more robust meatiness, and is every bit as delicious.
And just to push this whole indulgence thing even closer to the edge, we had the steak with a side of Brussels Sprouts, Pecorino, Sour Cream ($15). Brussel sprouts may not be most people’s idea of a treat, but here they are roasted until the leaves rustle like tissue paper, then drowned in a positive snowstorm of cheese. But that’s not even the whole story. They go one step further and serve it with a silken emulsion of sour cream and balsamic vinegar, which simultaneously adds and cuts through the richness. By the time they’re done, it’s not even remotely healthy anymore, but it’s likely the best brussels sprouts you’ll ever eat.
For when things get a little too heavy, there’s always the Cavolo Nero, Confit Garlic Cream ($11), which serves as a great palate cleanser between bites of steak. The crevices of the vibrantly green ribbons held little pockets of tangy garlic cream, its hearty texture giving it a clear place at the table, holding its own even against the hefty slab of beef.
Despite the photo-related shenanigans, I really enjoyed the experience at Bistecca. The lack of technology in the room made a small but noticeable change to the ambience; everyone at the restaurant seemed much more in the moment, and the atmosphere was that much more convivial as a result. But regardless of everything else, the real highlight of the night was without a doubt the food. There’s just so much joy in simple, high-quality ingredients cooked to its maximum potential, and that’s exactly what’s happening at Bistecca.
Rating: 16/20 – can’t wait to go back.
This rating reflects my personal experience at the time of visit.