Berta be­longs with the best

Sunday Tasmanian - Tassie Living - - TASTE - Graeme Phillips

‘ MY God, I’m sali­vat­ing just read­ing the menu”, said my din­ing part­ner, an exSyd­ney food stylist. “Amaz­ing”, she added af­ter hav­ing tasted our way through al­most the en­tire menu.

Berta is the day­time cafe rein­car­na­tion of what used to be Pic­colo.

And what we’ve lost as an ex­cit­ing din­ner op­tion, we’ve gained as an equally- ex­cit­ing break­fast and lunchtime venue where chef Alex Jo­vanovic’s art­fully plated, rus­tic and re­fined dishes, friendly ser­vice and in­ter­est­ing wine list de­liv­ers a very com­plete and hugely en­joy­able pack­age.

In com­po­si­tion and pre­sen­ta­tion, in the in­ter­play of flavours and tex­tures and the pre­ci­sion of the cook­ing, each dish by it­self at lunch was fault­less.

Cu­mu­la­tively, over nine dishes from soup to dessert, “amaz­ing” seemed about right.

There’s noth­ing trendy, pre­ten­tious or cut­ting edge about the menu or the food.

No gels, foams, riffs or smears. Rather it’s real food.

De­li­cious­ness over fash­ion­able en­velope­push­ing food with Ital­ian/ Mediter­ranean roots and an oc­ca­sional nod to Asia.

A thick, beau­ti­fully green- flecked spinach and chick­pea soup with beef and pine nut kofta and smoked yo­ghurt was a rev­e­la­tion of sub­tle smok­i­ness and flavours.

Nib­bles of deep- fried chorizo cro­quettes and pork- stuffed green olives came with a dry, not oily, thin coat­ing of tex­tu­ral crisp­ness.

How­ever many times you’ve had ri­cotta ravi­oli with as­para­gus and sage but­ter, I doubt you will ever have had it more beau­ti­fully com­posed, cooked and pre­sented.

The chicken liver par­fait, part of a char­cu­terie se­lec­tion, was as per­fect in its unc­tu­ous rich­ness and smooth­ness as the ac­com­pa­ny­ing cele­riac re­moulade was in its sub­tlety.

And, if say­ing another part of the se­lec­tion, the rab­bit ter­rine, was moist, firm, pre­cisely sea­soned and prop­erly made seems faint praise, the fact is that too of­ten th­ese days ter­rines aren’t.

Then we come to what I con­sider to be Jo­vanovic’s real strengths – his com­pos­ite sal­ads, bakes and braises, where he dis­plays a rare abil­ity to bring to­gether sim­ple, dis­parate in­gre­di­ents, flavours and tex­tures to cre­ate dishes of deeply sat­is­fy­ing de­li­cious­ness.

Dishes like his salad of spiced cau­li­flower, Per­sian fetta, quinoa, freekeh and hazel­nuts; his seared yel­low fin tuna with cel­ery hearts, crisp ca­pers, oven- dried toma­toes, aioli and salsa verde; and his baked fusilli with pork and fen­nel sausage, tomato, basil and moz­zarella.

As said, they’re not cut­ting edge. It’s all about flavour and the depth of flavours he seems to ex­tract from essen­tially sim­ple com­bi­na­tions of such com­mon place in­gre­di­ents, their bal­ance and the lift he gets from his use of fresh herbs, gar­nishes and spic­ings are, in my ex­pe­ri­ence, quite re­mark­able.

To round it off, an ex­quis­ite choco­late fon­dant ooz­ing warm choco­late from its cen­tre was a tech­ni­cal tri­umph.

There are weekly menu changes and, while I feel con­fi­dent you’ll en­joy what­ever you choose, to get the sort of full- on Berta ex­pe­ri­ence we had, I sug­gest you go with a few good friends, or­der a cou­ple of dif­fer­ent dishes each and gen­er­ously cross taste.

And you can do the same from an ex­ten­sive break­fast menu, with selec­tions run­ning from toast with four su­perb house- made jams to rice pud­ding, French omelette, ginger­bread hot­cake and var­i­ous egg and savoury dishes or, if on the run, make your se­lec­tion from a small se­lec­tion of en­tic­ing sand­wiches to eat in or to go. Or sim­ply drop in for their ex­cel­lent cof­fee and range of small sweet treats.

It all is truly very good.

PRICE GUIDE

Soup spe­cial $ 14; Nib­bles $ 5 to $ 12; more sub­stan­tial dishes $ 17.50 to $ 24.50; cheeses 1-$ 14, 2-$ 21, 3-$ 27; desserts $ 15.

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