If you’ve never been to the “shell restaurant”, you haven’t lived. Grotta Capri, with its three tonnes of sea shells stuck all over the walls inside and out, is truly a Sydney icon. Remember that scene in Muriel’s Wedding when Sophie Lee’s crew tell Muriel she’ll never be cool because she listens to Abba and they like the Baby Animals? It was filmed right here, as were scenes from Aussie cop shows White Collar Blue and Wildside.
Set on busy Anzac Parade, the Grotta isn’t quite fine dining but their menu is classic and made with care. Best to stick basic pasta dishes like the carbonara – classic Aussie style – a massive serve of fettucine with cream, bacon and eggs and plenty of parmesan. Classics like sizzling garlic prawns and the prawn cocktail (complete with fanned avocado) also make an appearance.
Dining at the Grotta means being bathed in an eerie blue glow cast from the many fish tanks set into the walls and the fairylight-flecked stalactites that jut from the ceiling alongside fake lobsters (Aussie ones, no less) and giant clams. We keep thinking we see something scuttling about above our heads and hope for a rogue crab that’s broken from its plastic casing, but it must be a trick of the light. Under our feet are long lengths of glass where streams flow complete with an entire plastic piscatorial host bobbing about.
If you’re into karaoke, the Grotta have a huge song selection on Fridays and Saturdays with two versions of Guns ‘n’ Roses’ Welcome to the Jungle. Drinks-wise, you’re best to stick with beer – the bar’s not particularly well stocked and it doesn’t seem the sort of place where they’ve got back up supplies (they ran out of Campari after taking our order and the one drink they could make for us was pretty anaemic).
However, if you like your veal, you’re in luck – there’s seven veal dishes on the menu including a veal bocconcini topped with spicy tomato sauce and a classic veal parmigiana with good mozzarella and nicely roasted eggplant. Try ordering the duck legs, though, and you might encounter some difficulties. We ask our waiter for them: “It’s salty.” “Really?” we ask. “Too salty to eat?” “It’s salty.” “Oh, should we order something else instead if they’re no good?” “It’s salty.” “Um, ok but are they salty because they’re cooked in fat, like confit?” “It’s salty.” “We’ll have the duck legs, please.” “Sure”
As it happens, the duck legs are good – they come served on green peppercorns and creamy mash and in no way tizzed up. And yes, they’re salty. The Grotta dessert menu also boasts a honey pannacotta which is wobbly and smooth – it could rival most others in town. There’s also tiramisu and sticky chocolate pudding, but they’re not so memorable.
Grotta Capri is an experience more than a dining destination. It’s great fun and totally unique – the room alone is enough to warrant a visit.