Osteria Balla, Sydney
Stefano Manfredi’s Osteria Balla is named after the Italian Futurist painter Giacomo Balla. This does not necessarily inspire confidence. At least not to anyone who’s familiar with Marinetti and Fillia’s ‘Manifesto of Futurist Cooking’, the so-called Futurists’ Cookbook. However, its demand that pasta be banned because it “causes lassitude, pessimism and a lack of passion” or that “ozonizers” should be used to “give food the smell of ozone” have been mercilessly ignored at this restaurant named after Balla. If there is any discernible manifestation of Futurist influence, then it is fortunately confined to the design concept. For the main part, it’s the endless bounty of the Italian kitchen that fills the menus at Manfredi’s place overlooking Pyrmont Bay.
For international foodies and millions of Australians Stefano Manfredi is a household name, the latest of a dynasty of culinary Italians who taught Australia how to love one of its favourite immigrant cuisines even more. The Manfredi clan’s pioneering restaurant in the 1980’s, Stefano’s cookbooks and frequent media coverage make him a celebrity chef.
Manfredi’s success stems from looking to the less familiar regional dishes of Italy and serving them up to pleased discerning punters with a deftness of touch and eye on contemporary lifestyle. As such, the menu at Balla is not static. It posits its central tenet around the traditional Milanese osteria, “reinventing the food of our grandmothers, our mothers” as Stefano puts it. But it is peppered with regional and seasonal specialities from elsewhere in Italy that keep him on his toes and the patrons lapping it up.
As is the norm in many good Italian restaurants, the menu is large, still observing the old orthodoxy of diners wanting both a pasta course and a main meat or fish course, book-ended by antipasti and a dessert. These days, however, even with Stefano’s lightness, there are few who could comfortably manage all that.
The starter that has the critics raving is Stefano’s cecina al forno, a baked chickpea tart finished with slivers of Pecorino. Then again, discerning fans also favour his grilled veal tongue with salsa verde. If you enjoy pasta, be certain to try his maccheroncini with butter, Parmesan, freshwater crayfish and sesame or the delicious potato gnocchi with duck ragù. Wood-grilled duck breast with endive and balsamic vinegar is among the tasty and healthy offer of main courses. Or,if you prefer your meat a little more traditional, the grilled lamb should encrusted with herbs and breadcrumbs will do very nicely. Those still hankering after a desert after all that will find plenty of choice. But the pumpkin and amaretto flan with anise cream just can’t be ignored.