We were involved in a eat-and-run incident last week at A Tavola. We had less than an hour to zip in, eat up and dash off to see Tiger Country, a play at The Stables Theatre which Will had taken some cast photos of. And of course I had to be greedy and complicate things by thinking I could sneak in a dessert as well as a main.
Will has attempted to have dinner twice before at A Tavola but had to be turned pavement-ward because it was packed out. Not a surprise, given that it recently scored an enthusiastic review in the Sydney Morning Herald. I’m glad he had more table-snaring luck this time. With this bustling popularity in mind, I was expecting a night in which I’d have to play Elbow Twister with fellow diners. But no, we were seated in the courtyard, which was empty bar the extremely chatty Eastern Suburbs schoolgirls scribbling away on the paper tablecloths.
Given their burbly loudness, it would have been really easy to get cranky at them, but they were quite funny and unexpectedly polite. They’d make hilarious over-dramatic exclamations like, “Oh Isabelle, you know that’s so not true!” and then run into your table. This was balanced out by the requisite super-polite girl who policed everything (there’s always one in every schoolgirl group!) and made sure the rowdies apologised. Even one of their mothers said sorry for the volume, which was nice given the noise was just perky atmosphere rather than a teeth-grinding soundtrack.
Dignity-wise, I’m glad our time-is-ticking deadline gave us licence to scoff down the house bread in Speedy Gonzales-style. It’s made on-site by chef Eugene Maiale and is ridiculously good. We dunked the focaccia into the bowl of olive oil, and every soft-crumbed bite was a lightning hit of chilli, salt and aniseedy herb tastiness.
With a name like “A Tavola” (Italian for “to the table”), the menu accordingly includes house-made and dry pastas of all sorts and shapes. After the waitress ran through the encyclopedia of ones on offer, I was intrigued, even though I couldn’t try any because they came with meat-heavy sauces. The waitress said the chef could tinker with certain menu options to make them vego-friendly, but I end up opting for the Swiss Brown Mushrooms with Green Peas, Mint and Ricotta Salata ($15) (which sounded like it could be a dreaded Salad Main Course, but the pan-fried mushrooms thankfully elevated it from such dullsville). Will had a satisfying serve of the Fettucine with Baby Spinach, Artichoke and Prosciutto, on special.
By the time our desserts came out, we had about 5 minutes to spoon everything down, pay the bill and run to the Stables. Still, I’m glad we chose to be totally impractical because good sweets are worth it. I had a Crostata with Grapes, Pine Nuts and Goats Curd, which was on their Dessert Specials menu. It features a different Crostada (baked tart) every night. I’d been leaning my dessert fork towards picking the Panna Cotta but when I found out the Crostata came with a scoop of Organic Honey Ice Cream, that sealed the deal. Will had the Zuppa Ingelese, a creamy trifle with layers of amaretti biscuits, mascarpone, peaches steeped in moscato, blueberries and crocante, a crumble made from toffee and almonds. I made many strategic spoon assaults on Will’s dessert, it was worth going to table war over.
It’s a shame we had to Dine and Dash, because A Tavola felt like a breezy place where you’d want to stay a while. We also had The World’s Nicest Waitress, who let us break with menu protocol and get a headstart on dessert so we wouldn’t be late, among other thoughtful things. I’d heard that the service can be variable, depending on who you get, but our experience would earn ticks aplenty in the hospitality column.
I’m looking forward to going back and having rich amounts of time to spend lingering over the dishes. (Plus, the thought of that untried panna cotta is just toying with me!) To the table, and not soon enough.
A Tavola, 348 Victoria Street Darlinghurst NSW (02) 9331 7871, www.atavola.com.au