312 Oxford St
Paddington, NSW 2021
Bootleg Italian is all about vegan Italian food; as in, it’s the bootleg version of real Italian food, geddit? And first impressions were just pure charm. The space is like a cross between a bistro and a speakeasy, which is more or less what it is, really. And whoever tells you that you can’t decorate with green and pink at the same time is obviously wrong. Unfortunately the goodness more or less stops there. The drinks take half an hour to come out, and food, the best part of an hour. Yet despite the long wait, the best I can say about the food is that it’s ‘good’, as in, nice but nothing to write home about (with the exception of dessert, which was genuinely good). This is an extra shame, because you can tell everyone there was trying real hard. I was really excited about Bootleg, thinking it could be something special, but I guess my hunch was off this time.
Rating: 11.5/20 – boooooo-tleg Italian.
The best bit: green velvet chairs for everyone!
The worst bit: don’t come hungry; you’ll be starving once you actually get to eat.
The Arancini Special ($20) was a delicious little number, the crunchy balls filled with a decadent, truffle-infused centre, sitting on a sweet white wine sugo, and topped with a little dollop of vegan ricotta. Some might find the rice in the middle a bit mushy, but frankly, I think the creaminess just makes it extra indulgent.
The Bootlegs Famous Vodka Rigatoni ($25) is apparently the pasta to order, and whoever wrote the menu would apparently ‘literally bath (sic) in this’. I was, however, not a fan. This was basically just your standard red sauce pasta, with a dash of something creamy stirred in. There’s nothing wrong with it, but it is the definition of run-of-the-mill. In fact, the best bit was without a doubt the al dente pasta.
Similarly, the Cacio e Pepe ($24) was a disappointment. It was basically just a creamy pasta (cashew-based sauce, that’s my guess) with not even a hint of pungent cacio, and very little pepe. It’s more in line with what Americans call buttered noodles. Once again, nice enough, but entirely unremarkable.
About 70 minutes into the meal, we were informed that the oven had broken, so no Dough Balls drenched in garlic butter for us. Instead, they brought out a Green Salad ($11), and also kindly knocked one of our pastas off the final bill. And I’ll admit: though it’s not as good as bread, this salad was actually rather swanky, and the vegan parmesan added a good savoury hit.
The Tiramisu ($14) was also purported to be amazing, but I was feeling rather sceptical after the vodka rigatoni. Luckily this turned out to be awesome – rich and creamy, with a coffee flavour that’s just the right balance between bitter and aromatic.
The Salted Chocolate Tart ($14) was similarly good, the ganache bursting with smooth cocoa flavours, and the hint of salt in the olive oil crust bringing out the sweetness.
The House-Made Sodas ($8) were pretty good, and came in every fruit flavour you could think of. Both the Passionfruit and Spicy Watermelon were delicious, and the latter had me wishing for a salt rim… and maybe even a splash of tequila.