There’s no terracotta here at Balla. No amphora jugs, no rustic Italian landscapes. No, instead you’ll find yourself in a room where enormous glass windows open out onto Pyrmont Bay with sparkling city views and cool water breezes. Stefano Manfredi’s Italian restaurant is a slick room with a 60s Italian movie vibe including white booths, vintage spotlights, bleached wood floors and a long bar out the front.
Start your meal with a slice of toast topped with braised mushrooms and slices of delicate pork fat or maybe a plate of pickled vegetables and a Negroni at said bar. Or maybe try a selection of the house-cured salumi - you can see the meats curing in their little glass cabinet at the front of the restaurant. Move on through to the dining room for the likes of the incredibly restorative ribollita Fiorentina - a hearty soup of bread and bitter greens in a light broth.
Service here is attentive, quick and friendly and there are some cool touches like the iPad wine list (though a word to wine pushers, if your customer orders a $42 glass of chardonnay and they look as povvo as this little black duck, it’s no bad thing to subtly double-check, even if the fault does lie with the person holding the list). Every table has its own personal dim light on the table, too, which is lucky because it’s an incredibly dark restaurant. We’re no lighting fascists at Time Out, but we do like to be able to see our own hands.
Fade into the shadows with a plate-sized whole roast whiting and side order of pan-fried turnip tops but don’t go anywhere without trying maccheroncini - mini maccheroni tossed through an absurd amount of butter and parmesan and mixed up with bits of yabby tail and finished with a scattering of with toasted sesame seeds.
Some of the desserts are a little bit of a let-down compared with the incredible savouries. We probably wouldn’t be rushing back for the pumpkin and Amaretto flan, which has the same unappealing mealy-yet-creamy consistency of those popular Japanese desserts we can’t get our heads around. But then there are the deep-fried pucks of creamy rice served with vanilla ice cream – if a meteor wiped out the dinosaurs, it only stands to reason the deep fryer will wipe out mankind. At least we’ll go happy and fat.
Out of all the Star restaurants, Balla is the one that feels most like a place you’d want to just drop by and hang out mid-week, or really amp it up on a big night out. Saluté.