Besser, Surry Hills

Eat, Restaurants, Sydney / 13 May 2015

The team behind A Tavola Darlinghurst and Bondi, have opened Besser, a casual Italian wine bar and eatery on Crown Street, Surry Hills.
A Tavola is one of my favourite places in Sydney for Italian cuisine and both sites have beautiful surrounds with dim lighting. They’re the kind of places you could settle in for a long, lazy dinner full of red wine, ragyu and friends. I had high hopes for Besser.
My initial impression of this new, highly anticipated restaurant, was that I must have missed something. What was with the ugly green vinyl floor, multi coloured plastic chairs and unfinished cement blocks? Is this just a temporary pop-up before they open the real deal à la their usual style?
Turns out this is it. The team have decided to take a step in a different direction paying tribute to their own Italian-Australian upbringing by offering no-fuss, delicious comfort food in a humble, basic dining space. Those unfinished cement blocks are actually called “besser blocks”, hence the name of the restaurant. 96 of them make up the 10-metre bar you see as you first walk in. It was a popular building material in the 1960/70s and particularly common to be featured in the garage of many Greeks and Italians. My own Papou had a similar set up in Melbourne!
You’re invited to dine in a space that feels as though you’re in a nona’s garage for a family feast. Like you’re celebrating someones holy communion complete with daggy music and homemade wine. It’s a fun idea and the experience is enjoyable but I feel like they could have really nailed this brief with a different location. Instead of taking out the old Billy Kwong site and knocking down the building next door to have a giant, bright, exposed restaurant on busy Crown Street somewhere smaller, more garage-like would feel more authentic.
But whilst the fit out doesn’t particularly excite me the food hits the spot. Start with some small dishes like the lamb fingers with yoghurt cucumber and fried sardines with garlic mayonnaise. The parmesan dusted meatballs come with delicious garlic and herb bread to dunk into the rich tomato sauce and for mains you can’t go past a whole juicy chicken to share.
Besser make a “6pm Risotto” each day. Guests have just 30 minutes to order the daily risotto special. Come 6.30 and it’ll be back to the restaurant menu, which sounds like a consolation but there are plenty of other delicious dishes to satisfy the latecomers.
Match your meal with one of the many Italian wines on offer. There are eight boutique Italian and Australian wines available on tap selected by Besser’s Ennio Di Marco. Di Marco has also created a 50-strong bottled wine list sourced from both Australia and Italy and focusing on small producers.
Besser also serves up a few cocktails including the Besser Sour and Breakfast Martini. They’re also aging negronis in barrels which is a brilliant idea.
This neighbourhood restaurant is serving dinner seven nights a week and lunch Thursday to Sunday. It’s a great spot to grab a casual meal, sit in the window and watch the world go by.
Shop 2/355 Crown Street, Surry Hills
9331 1611
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