Wish you had a nonna to cook you delicious pasta? Don’t worry, Sagra’s here
You don’t come to Sagra to show off. It’s not about pomp or prestige, any more than fiddly garnishes or fancy plating. But taking someone there will impress them, because this is one of Sydney’s most beloved modern Italians.
It’s the simplicity of things that is Sagra’s drawcard. The space reflects this – it feels like you’re stepping into someone’s home as you walk into the little terrace building. Tables are close together and service is warm and helpful – which is good, because much of the menu is in Italian, so you’ll need some steering.
Simplicity reigns, too, in the range of cured meats. A plate of creamy, buttery house-cured duck should kick things off nicely alongside a fruity, cinnamon-nosed glass of their own Sangiovese. The shavings of duck are literally just thrown on the plate alongside a tiny radish pickle – just like nonna would do it.
A baccalà (salt cod) salad steps things up a notch on the elegance scale. Flakes of fish (dry, but salted fish invariably is) are tossed with spindly pea shoots and peppery pink radish with salty caper berries and curls of softly roasted eschallots. Fried garlic shavings add crunch and the whole thing is dressed in just fresh lemon and fragrant, floral olive oil. It’s simple, pure and a pleasure to eat.
A tagliatelle ragu is rustic, the pork mince slow cooked in a light white wine sauce and tossed with loads of parmesan and long ribbons of al dente pasta, which is rustically rough and chewy rather that lengthily laminated to become silky and thin. We’d order this again over the meat course – our lamb is nicely cooked (medium rare) but is served with slightly undercooked chickpeas, a few florets of broccoli, and is topped with a salsa verde dressing that strangely doesn’t match up to the other flavours, and so isn’t able to lighten the affair.
A side of rainbow chard, in contrast, is a revelation. It’s a decent serve, a little baking dish stuffed to the rafters with sautéed leaves and stalks coated in a thick, nutmeg-scented, chilli-charged béchamel sauce with a grilled parmesan crust adorning the top. It’s humble eating – a bit stodgy to be honest – but weirdly feels all the better for it, because it’s not trying to be anything other than comforting.
The chocolate tart boasts a fluffy, whipped centre and a thick, hard casing of pastry, the accompanying crème fraîche stopping things getting too sweet. Want something fresher? Order the goat’s milk gelato which, although a little gritty, is served with a mandarin granita that offers merely a scent of citrus to temper the strong flavour of the ice cream.
Sagra wants to be that neighbourhood place you pop into for a solo plate of pasta when you can’t be bothered to cook. The difference is it’s giving you wholesome food made from scratch, so it’s a step above most other restaurants of this ilk. It’s a deeply comfortable place to go, like that big goose-down sofa of your dreams. But with food. And nonna.