Set on the picturesque historical Finger Wharf in Woolloomooloo, Otto Ristorante cuts a striking image. Sitting mere metres from the sparkling harbour, it seems to me like the ideal location for a long, leisurely lunch and an afternoon cocktail. Head chef Richard Ptacnik produces stylish modern Italian cuisine with a focus on fresh quality ingredients. The new fixed-price Menu del Giorno offers a two-course lunch with a cocktail to start, for $50. We attended the launch to sample some of the dishes of offer, and were indeed impressed.
Seated outside in the perfect weather, we started with a stunning apéritif cocktail Aperol Splice. With Aperol, vodka, passionfruit sorbet, lemon juice and egg white, topped with half a fresh passionfruit, it made for a perfect sunny afternoon drink by the water. Sweet and refreshing with strong passionfruit and citrus flavours, it was very easy to forget about the alcoholic content of the drink. Genetically doomed to be a lightweight drinker, I had to unfortunately exercise some self-restraint to save room for the Otto wines.
Should you be so inclined to take a bit of Otto home with you, you’re able to purchase from their very own range of ‘Nostrano’ wines produced in Willow Bridge Winery. We sampled both the Semillon/Sauvignon Blanc and Sangiovese/Shiraz; I can’t claim to a wine connoisseur of any sort, but I do know when I like something.
Otto also exclusively imports Cuor d’Ulivo olive oil, which we enjoyed with a piece of their fantastic house-made olive bread. Chewy, fresh bread studded with salty olives, dipped in a lovely, strong olive oil? Heavenly.
For the first course, I had my eyes on the kingfish tartare with capers, chilli, egg yolk and olive toast, however everyone else around me had the same idea so I took one for the team and went for the other entrée option. The tartare looked amazing, and I was a little jealous when this dish was brought out – a mound of fresh raw kingfish embellished with herbs, chilli and capers, served with a border of bright orange egg yolk and two wafer-thin slices of toasted olive bread.
However, when my fettuccine with smoked chicken ragù and spinach purée arrived fresh and steaming hot, I had no regrets about missing the tartare. The waitress advised that I mix the dish through before eating, as the spinach sits beneath the pasta. As I stirred, steam rose off my plate and delicious aromas floated about. “That smells amazing,” everyone says, and I smiled smugly in the self-satisfaction of my decision. The house-made pasta was fresh and al dente, thick ribbons of fettuccine coated in hearty chicken ragù and pale green spinach purée, a beautiful mess of colours and flavours. The serving was generous for an starter size but I couldn’t put my fork down, even with the knowledge there were more courses to come. I just kept on eating and savouring, silently thankful for my vast stomach capacity.
The choice of main course was a no-brainer for me, I really just cannot go past roast pork. The twice cooked pork belly, caper and raisin purée, caramelised witlof and almonds was superb – a tender, succulent cut of meat yielded a soft layer of fat and thick, blistered crackling. It was terribly indulgent and worth every calorie. Perfect on its own, I preferred it au naturale but it also went well with the sweet caper and raisin purée. The witlof was also fantastic, with sweet and smokey flavours of burnt caramel permeating the leaves.
The second option for the main course was the Cone Bay barramundi, Jerusalem artichoke purée, mushrooms and potato. A thick fillet of barramundi boasted a layer of crunchy and golden skin, resting atop a bed of mushrooms and potato, and dressed up with a smear of artichoke purée.
I always say I’m not a dessert person but dishes like these never fail to win me over. Going off-menu now, head chef Richard brings us a little treat. The chocolate fondant with rum and raisin gelato was presented on a bed of bittersweet dark chocolate, cute little parcels innocently sitting there challenging the limits of my waistband. When I dug my spoon into what looked like an ordinary cake, I was greeted by a lovely surprised – a rich liquid centre oozed out, coating the fondant with an additional layer of decadence. It was a beautiful sight to behold and many moans of “oh my god” were heard around the table. The cool gelato balanced out the richness of the cake with refreshing creamy, sweet and tart flavours. I can only describe this as an eruption of molten goodness.
Three hours after sitting down, we finished our lunch over coffee with these cute little checkerboard nougat and truffle petit fours. Beautiful food, beautiful location and excellent service made for the most fabulous Friday lunch. Yes, we end our weeks in style. Otto really does know how to spoil you.
Area 8, 6 Cowper Wharf Road, Woolloomooloo
02 9368 7488