The original concept of Fratelli Fresh largely informed the direction of fine casual dining in Sydney, when after buying quality fresh produce, you could then relax with a well-executed pasta dish and a glass of wine and leave well satisfied without emptying your pockets. Rockpool Dining Group, who now own and oversee the brand, have decided to celebrate by showcasing some of Fratelli’s favourite dishes that have wowed diners throughout the years. With eight locations to choose from, we chose the large and vibrant space in Darling Harbour to sit down and evaluate the current pitch and how it plays out for the diner.
Culinary Director of the Group’s casual brands, Gabor Denes, oversaw the selection of the dishes, which includes an outrageously priced three-course menu for $39, available for lunch or dinner, seven days a week. We start off well with fried zucchini flowers from that menu, generously filled with ricotta, lemon and goat’s cheese. They are more-ish, and set the tone for what is to follow, the eighth wonder of the polenta world – six massive crisscrossed blocks of crispy fried polenta, topped with parsley and parmesan, and served on a base of mushroom cream sauce. An extra pinch of salt would have almost levitated them from their architectural magnificence, but the texture was more than noteworthy. Perfectly timed, a simple bowl featuring delectable prosciutto, refreshing melon and basil cuts across the richness of the previous dish. Likewise, the house salad of punchy cherry tomatoes with buffalo mozzarella and basil rocks and refreshes the palate before our mains arrive.
Perfectly seasoned and impossibly tender beef cheek ragu with pappardelle, snow pea shoots and parmesan is a wow dish that delivers on the promise of simplicity and serious concentration of flavours. The seafood and saffron risotto pulls off an execution test of flawlessly cooked scallops, prawns, mussels and calamari, garnished with tomato and basil. Like the polenta, another pinch of salt elevates it to another level, as the texture of the dish and harmony of the components was something to respect from a technical perspective of timing. The astutely cooked pepperoni pizza that follows from a selection of a dozen, is a triumph of less is more, although I would probably dice the large pepperoncini pepper to make the logistics of scoffing it down just a bit easier. That said, it tasted wonderful, and left me pondering a return to try some of the others, as the quality of the base and cooking in the impressive pizza oven is without question.
We finish off with tiramisu and banoffee pie torte, and some excellent gelato from their extensive selection, with the mango just heavenly. It would be remiss also not to mention the cocktail game, which is particularly strong, and if you were to come down during happy hour and graze on the set menu you would eat and drink like kings at an unmatchable price point. The other thing that really wins me over is the exceptional and intuitive service that underpins the experience, and tonight it’s hard not to notice that Maggie Beer, one of the icons of Aussie food royalty is in the house, and looks just as happy as we are when she leaves. Enough said.
By Dane Richards
Tenancy 2, 14 Darling Drive, Darling Harbour NSW 2000
02 9259 5600
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Images: Michael Gribbin