Proud and powerful: Machiavelli Ristorante is still one of Sydney’s finest Italian restaurants

It seems the 2016 arrival of a spin-off restaurant, imposing Rushcutters Bay warehouse restaurant Bar Machiavelli, has sparked a new flame under Sydney’s long-standing Machiavelli Ristorante, a stalwart dining destination that has been standing since 1988. There’s a real “if these walls could talk” kind of history behind this famed Italian restaurant, a sprawling space underneath Clarence Street and just a stone’s throw from Wynyard Station. Regular clientele include the political elite and media billionaires, many of whom have their portraits circling the quintessentially European interior, beaming down on their own tables with poses so serious they feel like satire.

Not much has changed of the space over the years, but change isn’t always a necessity, at least in aesthetics. There’s a healthy, dynamic approach to food and drink that has the seasonal menu bringing on new dishes all the time, all of which seem to stick true to tradition with subtle shades of modernity and twists towards local produce. There’s also a more-is-more approach to most of the signatures here, presenting hearty Italian fare from antipasti all the way to dolci.

If it’s your first time, and you’re with a large group, go straight for the Affettati ($38) and don’t look back. Opportunity cost is a big thing here – which is probably why there are so many regulars – but just looking at this enormous, vibrant board of mixed cured meats and cheeses will immediately eliminate the need for any alternatives. This is as generous as they come, an easy split between 3-4 people with piles of freshly sliced prosciutto san daniele, salami, lonza, mortadella, provolone, bread and more.

Pay extra attention to the regular specials as you might just net yourself a dish of crisp Wagyu Bresaola dancing around a bed of rocket and creamy buffalo mozzarella. Or stop being tempted by the more indulgent dishes and slide into a simple Insalata Caprese ($29); it’s pricey for what you get – a small spread of rich vine ripened tomatoes, basil and fresh bufala mozzarella – but finding one which perfectly captures the exceptionally fresh taste of Italian staples as well as this one, in Sydney, is a rare treat.

It’d be easy to fill up before you even get to the pasta, but that’s obviously a mistake – I assume one that’s quite common too. You can go for the restaurant’s timeless Spaghetti Machiavelli ($40) but there are others on the menu with equal worth. Take there other most famous dish for example, the Fusilli Granchio ($42); it’s a stunning pasta of delicate white wine sauce coating perfect spiral pasta and a generous mix-through of fresh crab meat. As far as pasta goes, it’s as light and airy as the Caprese salad, in stark contrast to the hearty Fettucine Duck Ragout ($42) with rich madeira sauce, fresh thyme and cherry tomatoes.

It’s worth checking on the newer additions to the always anticipated menu of dolci. Even if you’re feeling full one look at the beautifully plated Lemon Tart will light a fire in that belly. It’s a playful presentation of a lemon tart surrounded by meringue buttons and topped with coconut anglaise, not overly rich or sour but perfectly balanced with a swift undercurrent of fresh fruits. For something slightly more indulgent, there’s the Chocolate Fondant, another playful presentation with fresh raspberries and raspberry coulis.

For drinks, the cocktails are of the unsurprising and traditional kind, but a focus of freshness means these classics are well worth your time. Of course, much thought has been put into the wine list as well, and for those with much more money to burn it’s highly recommended you just tell your waiter a price and leave the suggestions to them.

Though in terms of atmosphere I might lean towards Bar Machiavelli’s theatrical warehouse walls and inventive cocktails any day, s far as good goes it’s the big sister of the Machiavelli family which emerges the tried and true winner.

Machiavelli Ristorante

Address: 123 Clarence Street Sydney NSW, 2000
Contact: 02 9299 3748
Website: machiavelli.com.au
Hours: Mon-Fri 12pm-11pm