Eating out: Baretta
Baretta is the latest night life hotspot to be served up by the owners of Sol Square's Cartel bar.
The restaurant/bar/nightclub is all moody wallpaper, dark wood and low lighting. I imagine this is how an Italian gentleman's club might look.
The restaurant ambitiously serves a full dinner menu until midnight so with that in mind we made a post-movie booking for 8.45pm on a Saturday.
The bouncer on the door was a bad sign. With the bar overflowing and high-volume live music the ambience was more club than restaurant.
Determined, we rearranged our chairs to hear each other better and shouted our order at the waitress. Service throughout was professional and attentive but a partitioned restaurant would be a huge improvement if dinner is offered until midnight.
Baretta is all about shared plates and Italian flair.
First orders: The smoked chicken croquettes were beautifully crumbed and well presented but had no flavour. The accompanying gruyere fondue dipping sauce listed on the menu promised something different, and lured us into ordering but what appeared on the plate was a lukewarm, stodgy cheese paste, not the smooth, molten cheese we were anticipating. Disappointing.
The hand-cut chips were also a letdown.While visually appealing in their rustic chunkiness, the haphazard sizing saw some chips cooked perfectly, others not cooked right through. The slightly sharp garlic aioli was the hero of this plate.
The highlight of our meal was an entree-sized plate of Waygu beef carpaccio. Sliced thin, the beef - infused with dijon mustard, salty capers and fresh herbs - melted in the mouth. It was served with a salad, olives and shaved parmesan and was a beautifully executed dish with the combination of flavours just right.
Our main dish was a shared lamb saddle coupled with a pea, pancetta and hazelnut salad. The combination of salty pancetta, tender peas and crunchy nuts was a creative take on a side salad.
The lamb, cooked medium as stated on the menu (although the end parts of the cut were more "well done"), was juicy and well-seasoned and a horseradish cream lifted the dish.
I would have preferred the rosemary jus - presented already poured over the saddle of lamb - to be served in a jug. When a plate is intended for sharing, any sauces could be served separately.
Baretta's dessert menu had three options. Our baked alaska meringue was soft and pillowy on the outside, with strawberry icecream preserved on the inside. A simple presentation but admiral craftsmanship.
A creme brulee was delicately infused with cardamom and orange and an example of a brulee done well. A good way to end a meal.
Where: 174 St Asaph St
Ph: 03 260 2600
When: Mon-Sun, 11.30am-late
Cost: Shared plates range $14-$37
Upside: Excellent service
Downside: Very noisy
Go again: Yes, but earlier if dining