Pendolino discreetly located on Level two of the beautifully restored Strand Arcade (circa 1891) is a Cafe/L’Olioteca/Restaurant & Wine Bar depending on your preference and time of the day. The main room, albeit a tad too darkly lit in my opinion, has an undeniable ambience with subtle use of effect lighting stylishly featuring the heritage brickwork and well stocked wine and olive oil shelves. However, you know its dark when a menu lamp makes an appearance with the only real light cast from the bustling open kitchen which in combination the tight spacing of the tables makes for a noticeably noisy room at tilt.
Three flavoured olive oils (Sanguinella, Limone & Fruttato) are offered with extra spongy olive bread at the start just in case you skipped past the impressive L’Olioteca on your way through. I just have to order the super fine sliced free-range Alba style beef carpaccio ($22) which is heavenly and just melts suggestively in the mouth with the truffled white walnut puree and Testun di Barolo cheese. Whilst the wild baby olives garnish are slightly hard work, the concentrated flavour is nature’s sublime payback, with only the handmade rosemary grissini requiring a touch of seasoning to be faultless.
Promising start, until our mains arrive before the entrees which we’re hastily told were accidently brought to the wrong table when queried. Nice try, until the floor manager realises that lacks plausibility and admits the error advising that our entrees are just four minutes away. Unfortunately, the duck risotto ($26/39) predictably suffers being re-ordered on the fly with the rice being way too firm in texture and the final application of stock not fully integrating with the favours of the chesnut mushroom and sweet pea cohesively enough. Not fairing as badly was the signature pappardelle con ragu di vitella e maggiorana ($21/34) which showcases roughly torn braised White Rocks veal, although the single wickedly crumbed fried bone marrow ball threatens to steal the show. The freshly made pasta is a tad too firm, rather than textbook al dente, but is seasoned right to the edge without unpleasantly tipping over. In fairness, I would like to revisit both dishes under less duress.
As expected the wine list as is not short of Italian varietals, but on this occasion I choose from a good array of local vino with the 08 Freeman “Fortuna” ($62) from Hilltops, a flexible Pinot-Gris/Riesling/Sav Blanc blend that covers a few possible food matches. The 08 Cuttaway Hill Pinot ($53) from The Southern Highlands is good value and well balanced for that varietal given the region. There is also a fairly extensive offering by the glass, which the predominantly business type crowd seem to appreciate. The floor staff, particularly well attired, occasionally miss with basic fundamentals like topping up sparkling water with tap, but most importantly retain their poise when service really hits its inevitable crescendo.
The Porchetta Al Finocchio ($37) a slow roasted fennel and rosemary scented pork belly is decadently unctuous and is served on an intriguing cannellini bean puree, the textural richness of which is offset by a fennel and blood orange salad dressed with 2010 NSW Agrumato Sanguinella EVOO. Chef Nino Zoccali seizes every opportunity to feature carefully sourced olive from his comprehensive L’Olioteca to emphasise just how seriously a part it plays in the overall experience. The medium-rare char grilled quail ($37) served on beautifully sautéed spinach is a very distinctive tasting bird which requires the dried black olive and Mediterranean herb sauce for balance, although unfortunately the slow cooked thyme and garlic potato is slightly underdone. A side of steamed green beans ($11) with garlic anchovy and olive oil dressing is solid without living up to its promise.
Despite generous savoury portions, the buffalo milk ricotta fritters with amarene sour cherry ice cream ($16) is very moorish, but the Semifreddo ($15) is anything but as my spoon cannot make any incursion despite repeated attempts. A shame because the Liqurian honey and almond milk flavour would have been lovely with the candied almond and crostoli had it been served “half cold” as expected. Overall, Pendolino had a few too many hits and misses for my liking, but their underlying ethos is genuinely well intentioned and perhaps the presence of Chef/Owner Nino Zoccali who was absent would make for a more consistent and complete experience. In a perfect world that shouldn’t make any difference, but from experience more often than not it does, however their wonderful obsession with quality extra virgin olive oil is still reason enough alone to sit down and break some bread.
Level 2, The Strand Arcade, 412-414 George Street, Sydney
Mon 12pm-3pm; Tue-Fri 12pm-3pm, 6pm-10pm; Sat 6pm-10pm