Three different set menus – with the option to mix-and-match or add dishes – define the offering at new Darlinghurst restaurant Classico Moderno, which sits modestly behind the Hyde Park end of Oxford Street. Chef Bryan Gerlini seems to have been inspired from his time spent at the highly acclaimed Café Paci with Pasi Petanen, gifting Sydney diners an exciting short-run restaurant that serves as a dedicated showcase for the Emelia Romagna region of Northern Italy. The dining here is charactertised by interesting, soulful dishes that move away from the expected and present beautifully designed dishes packed with strong flavours and textures, a testament to Gerlini’s love of his home and a reminder of his the indelible mark he left as the founding head chef of Leichhardt favourite Capriccio Osteria.
Fortunately an end-date hasn’t yet been set for Classico; still, Gerlini very much intends this to be a limited run restaurant, a style Sydney should be more than used to by now, especially since Café Paci built such high demand and interest for these temporary fixtures. Such pop ups are especially valuable as they allow chefs the freedom to experiment. All we know so far is that Classico should be sticking around for the next five months or so, with demand being the deciding factor on any extensions; although with this quality it’s hard to imagine us having to say goodbye anytime soon.
The restaurant’s front section is a modest and rather small space with seating overlooked by a well-stocked bar from which to staff pick some gorgeous Italian wines to pair with the various dishes offered. Deeper into the restaurant is a darker, livelier area designed for larger groups, but those just dining with two or three should settle for the front; the natural light streams in during the day giving a better look at Gerlini’s unique twists and turns on traditional Italian.
The three set menus are shaped to suit the primary preferences of most diners. Those leaning towards meats will want to choose the “Emilia – From the Land” set; anyone with a dedicated love of seafood should pick the “Romagna – The Coast”, which pays homage to fresh produce showcasing the regional coastline of the Adriatic Sea; thirdly, vegetarians will be excited that an entire set menu has been dedicated to native vegetables from the fertile soils of the Po River Valley, set menu “Pianura – The Valley” being a showcase for those gentle rolling hills and high quality produce.
As mentioned above, the option ($65pp) to mix-and-match between the menus is also available and it’s the ideal choice for anyone who isn’t leaning towards any particular six-course set. This way you can really get a feel of what Gerlini and his team have put together, and also try a larger range of wines which are available as a pairing option with each course.
Starting snacks include the intriguing Cannolo alla Mortadella. Rather than a gentle start, this is an intensely flavoursome way to kick things off and one which may be divisive to some. I personally loved the rich pistachio-covered balsamic vinegar cannoli which comes filled with creamy pink mortadella mousse, throwing ones palate into the deep-end for the first of two antipasti options.
The second, and superior, antipasti is the larger Piadina Romagnola, satisfying and smooth traditional flatbreads filled with stracchino mousse, wilted rocket, and freshly sliced prosscuito de parma. The bread is thick and closer to an Indian style chapati rather than something crispier like a Malaysian roti, firmly gripping the filling which is fresh and much more gentle than the cannoli.
Seppia e Piselli is taken from the Romagnola menu, presenting squid cooked two ways swimming in a bright green pea puree that’s been blackened with squid ink. Use the spongy foccacia bread to clean to bowl when it’s all done, but not before appreciating the beautiful way in which squid permeates this dish from fried to inked. It’s a great option, but nowhere near the level of Passatelli ai Funghi Porcini, a vegetarian stand-out dedicated entirely to the juicy, earthy tastes of mushrooms. House-made passatelli is hidden beneath various shaved mushrooms, the pasta coated with a strong taste from being tossed in porcini sauce. Gerlini is taking great risks here, and dishes like this are a nice pay-off that should make an extension of this sub-leased restaurant highly likely.
I wasn’t fond of the grainy carnaoli rice that defines the Risotto dell’Adriatico, a dish inspired by various seafood of the Adriatic Sea. A large prawn and some chewy calamari swim in this broth, which is very light and watery though plain enough to let the produce speak for itself. As far as menu descriptions go, it’d seem that the better seafood option would be the Tagliolini Verdi con Ragu di Vongole, some house-made spinach tagliolini with slow-cooked clam ragu. I think this because the kitchen seems much more focused on flavour when it comes to pasta, a good example being from the “Emilia” menu with Tagliatelle alla Bolognese; the essential pasta dish has hand-rolled tagliatelle sitting delicately in a strong beef and pork bolognese ragu; it’s perfect.
Ex-Gelato Messina chef Francsco Guerra has joined Classico to handle the desserts, the must try being the Zappa Inglese. This dessert is a beautifully soft sponge cake with layers of vanilla and chocolate custard drenched in nutty Alchermes liqueur. The top is a sightly army of creamy drops that look similar to meringue kisses, adding a bit of theatre before one digs into this refreshing, and surprisingly cleansing, finish.
With all three set menus (and the mix-and-match option) set at $65pp, this is terrific value and a great way to zone in on one young chef’s love of his home region. The creativity and thought Gerlini has poured into Classico really does come across in the majority of these dishes, and while flavours may pull strongly in various directions, those with a more adventurous palate who really appreciate something different should walk away feeling greatly satisfied.
Special menus are currently being planned for a traditional Emilia Romanga Christmas Eve dinner and New Year’s Eve event, plus summer will bring a few seasonal changes so keep an eye out on the restaurant’s social media (linked to below) for further updates.
Address: 172-174 Liverpool Street, Darlinghurst
Contact: (02) 9331 4358
Hours: Mon-Thurs 5:30pm-late; Fri 12pm-3pm; Sat 5:30pm-late