If Sophia Loren owes everything she has to spaghetti, it might be fair to say everything Barry McDonald has, he owes to Johnny Love Bite tomatoes and individual watermelons. The successful businessman has turned a fruit-and-veg business into a series of successful trattorias, each with an attached fruit and vegetorium. And now Alexandria joins the fray.
This new restaurant and food store is set in the old Buckland Hotel – a fairly forgettable pub of blah repute with good bones on Mitchell Road. On the weekends, there are people lining up waiting for the joint to open. Mid-week, it’s a little quieter – mostly young families and couples on dates – and pretty easy on the nabbing-a-table front.
There are still tables outside – a hangover from the Buckland days. In fact, if you didn't know better on first glance, you might still think it was a pub. To that end, the floor staff seem pretty chilled with someone just ordering a Campari and soda and some taleggio-filled arancini. Sadly, those cheesy deep-fried rice balls a little bready, but the idea is still very appealing.
The walls are either adorned with black-and-white photos of Sophia Loren, or plastered chalk scrawls (a large hand helpfully points to the outdoor section; another, the pizzeria). Make sure to look up to see the specials on the restaurant’s support beams, lest you miss out on a cocktail of mandarin, gin and Aperol or the torta melanzana.
If you’re a Sopra devotee, you’ve probably got your favourite dishes lined up in front of you as we speak. You wouldn’t want to miss that caramel/banana/whipped cream sweet dream that is their banoffee pie, or the caprese salad of blushing tomatoes, hunks of buffalo mozzarella and tiny basil leaves. You’ll know that pasta here is always a safe bet – namely that killer hunk of lasagne, long strands of tagliatelle with salsicce and smashed peas and crushed-up croutons, or curly little fusilli laced with confit tuna.
If you decide to do a little off-the-grid ordering, we’d say make the pizza (a new fixture for Sopra) is a set dressing rather than the main event. It’s OK, but if you’re used to the usual produce-driven food treated with a light hand and minimal intervention, it might make you a little sad.
As ever, the food on the tables at Café Sopra Alexandria is available as food on the shelves and vice versa. So you might be wondering where to get your hands on the smashed green olives in your salad of chunky, rough-hewn croutons, ribbons of raw zucchini and mint leaves – they’re available in the fridge, along with all the other fixings. Want to make a pizza after trying the ham, salami, chorizo, tomato and mozzarella number? They sell type 00 flour to make your dough, air-freighted mozzarella and all the meats. Smart.