Saturday, 14 September 2013

Otto: a survivor in a fickle restaurant world

Restaurants, particularly in fickle Sydney, fall in and out of fashion faster than boy bands. 

A new place opens with a rave review, is packed to the rafters for a few weeks and then closed by the end of its first year. 

In its place arrives another red hot eatery, which rises and falls with similar speed. 

In the world of restaurants it takes a real skill to survive for a decade or more - which is why Otto Ristorante at Woolloomooloo Wharf (and sister restaurant Quay, also owned by the Fink Group) are such rarities. 
Otto is the spot where former radio deity John Laws dines almost daily. It's been a waterfront meeting place for Sydney movers and shakers since March 2000 - that's before the Sydney Olympic Games; a lifetime ago. 

The Fink Group bought Otto in 2006, and regulars say the food has never been better. It's still one of the hottest spots on the busy and historic Finger Wharf, one of Sydney’s most charming dining destinations - and the restaurant can be reached direct from inside BLUE Hotel. 

Otto no longer has a hat in the Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide but you get the sense the regulars don't give a jot. I've seen murmurings about slack service on social media sites, too, but when I visited it was spot on - informed and attentive without any hint of obsequiousness. 

Sit outside if you can - in winter there are braziers to keep you warm and in summer there's a spectacular passing parade and great skyline views.

The food is modern Italian with a twist; I loved the crudo di tonno (raw yellowfin tuna with its support cast of flavours like pickled cucumber and crispy pig's ear) and the capesante (scallops with veal swettbreads and parnsip puree - a thoroughly modern take on surf and turf).

Other star dishes include tagliolini ( black and white pasta with scampi, cherry tomatoes, chilli and garlic) and superb gnocchi with parmesan puree and black truffles (below). 

Meat lovers should look no further than pancia di maiale - rich, twice-cooked Berkshire pork belly, or maybe the juniper and black pepper-crusted venison. Desserts, too, both look and taste good. 

Thank you to sous chef Will Cowper, who patiently put together several small plates for me to sample.  

As you'd expect of a special occasion restaurant, there's a superb wine list with some excellent by-the-glass selections, including savoury Italian whites like a 2010 San Lorenzo Le Oche Verdicchio and a 2012 Malvira Roero Arneis, along with a brilliant Otto Nostrano Sangiovese rosé made by sommelier Patrick White in Geographe, Western Australia.

Among the reds by the glass, Timo Mayer's 2012 Bloody Hill Pinot Noir shone - and there were plenty of good suggestions from assistant somm Lily Polanco.

All in all, an excellent experience. May Otto survive at least another 13 years. 

Otto Ristorante, Area 8, Cowper Wharf Road, Woolloomooloo. 02 9368 7488.
  61 2 9368 7488

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