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