210 Australia St
Newtown, NSW 2042
For our annual end-of-year shebang last year, I decided on dinner at Ms. G’s. However there was another strong contender for the occasion, and that was Continental Deli Bar and Bistro.
On paper, Continental is pretty much everything I love – a wine bar with a range of clever share plates and charcuterie, all served in a relaxed and decadently European setting.
First impressions certainly lived up to my hopes. The beautifully classic interior was jazzed up with the most intriguing and charming range of pieces, including boughs of local greenery, framed retro-styled posters, and an enormous hand-drawn picture of a bluefin tuna. But if you ask me, the most attractive features would have to be the deli cabinet of cheeses and charcuterie, as well as the shelves of high-end pickles and canned goods.
Whereas the downstairs section fulfills the deli and bar aspects of the restaurant’s name, the upstairs is dedicated entirely to the bistro. But instead of stuffy starched tablecloths and equally stiff waiters, the atmosphere feels a lot more like having dinner at the home of a very classy and hospitable friend. There’s hints of luxury in the marble tabletops and soft linen napkins, but all up the experience is a decidedly relaxed and comfortable one.
It’s date night, so drinks are in order. My vermouth – the Mancino Secco ($10) – initially came mixed with orange juice; not what I meant when I had asked for it with orange! It was fixed up quick-smart, but despite that it wasn’t the aperitif I was hoping for. I had asked for something sweet and heavily perfumed with botanicals; what I received was super dry with a mild herbaceous note – much more appropriate for mixing than for drinking on ice. Luckily, Chris’ Peach and Rosemary Shrub ($10) was awesome. The essence of fresh peaches was extracted beautifully, the aroma sweet and summery without being even the slightest bit artificial. Rounded out with the warmth of a rosemary sprig, this was living proof that non-alcoholic beverages can be just as good as the boozed-up ones.
Movida taught me that in Europe, good quality seafood gets stuck in a can, so I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to have the Pepus Squid ($22). Ok so it wasn’t the plump stuffed baby squid that I had been hoping for, but the pieces of chewy squid in a rich sauce of ink and paprika is definitely moreish, especially when interspersed with a bite of pickled chilli, and a cheeky handful of Smiths Thins.
I never have steak tartare, and I mean never, but after what seems like every single person raving about it, I caved in to peer pressure and got the Steak Tartare with Gaufrette Potato Chips ($26). And I admit it – this really is very good. The finely-diced steak was savoury and rich, seasoned with a bold trio of capers, onion, and parsley, the hint of tanginess smoothed out by the snowstorm of earthy pecorino. And despite the fact that gaufrette is just a fancy way of saying waffle fries, its substantial golden crunch was a great vehicle for the tartare.
On the lighter end of the spectrum is the Cucumbers, Stracciatella, Feta & Dill ($20). Although this is exactly what it says on paper, there really is no need to mess with a classic. The cucumbers were layered with hearty dollops of creamy stracciatella, topped with an unholy amount of crumbly feta, and anointed with dill-infused oil. It is every cheese-lover’s dream, and I was especially impressed with the inclusion of both fresh and pickled cucumber, which added unexpected zestiness and texture.
Breaking with tradition, the Pasta – Strozzapreti, XO all’Amatriciana ($26) was a daring take on the age-old combination of tomato, guanciale, and pecorino. Instead of cured pork cheek, the tomato-based sauce was flavoured with a combination of charcuterie meats, and the truly unexpected addition of XO sauce. The depth of flavour and umami this single condiment lends is incredible; not only does it give the sauce an unprecedented savoury richness, it also brings out the sweetness of the cherry tomato, as well as the indulgent porky fattiness of the charcuterie. And the way the sticky sauce and melted pecorino clings to the al dente twirls of pasta? Truly transcendent.
We had a good amount of stomach room left, so we weren’t daunted when we were told that the Rum Baba ($18) was ‘a little bigger’ than the flan in a can (yes, flan in a can). But this thing was monstrous. An enormous doughnut, soaked in maple syrup, and piled high with peanut gelato and Pedro Ximénez cream, this was less of a rum baba and more of a doughnut sundae on steroids. It was delicious, but by about 60% of the way through, eating this became an ordeal. Don’t be like us kids – make sure you get this one to share between at least three people. Maybe even four, if you’re like my parents and compliment desserts with the well-known Asian refrain of ‘not too sweet’.
I’ve always been hard on Sydney restaurant scene for heavily featuring conglomerates that churn out one soulless restaurant after another, and so it’s extra heartening to see places like Continental surviving and thriving in this environment. The food is no doubt great, but what really makes Continental stand out is its sheer amount of personality. In fact, the formula is so successful that they’ve opened a second branch in the CBD in the last couple years, which I am now very keen to hit up. After all, there’s a lot of cheese, charcuterie, and canned goods left to try!
Rating: 15.5/20 – deli-ghtful
This rating reflects my personal experience at the time of visit.