For a lot of people, the best thing about work is the lunch hour. And you can tell a lot by how someone spends it – whether they’re eating heated-up leftovers “al desko”, mentally finetuning the perfect sandwich combination to order at the local cafe, or really splashing out and going beyond their allocated $8 takeaway budget.
Right now I’m on a long and boring “making couscous to save money” lunching regime, but I was very excited to meet up with Will for lunch at Vini. A tiny wine bar with a limited but brilliant Italian menu, Vini is often insanely packed at lunch – even though it recently doubled in size after a renovation. Nature abhors a vacuum – so do hungry folk with an appetite for Vini.
Even though it’s hectic, loud, and a bit of a stress-out simply landing a table, I really love the place. Everytime I’ve been there, it’s been because I’ve needed a cheer-me-up to handle the rest of the working day, and it has always re-shifted my mood. Lots of people rave about the nearby Il Baretto, but I find it’s bland and deflating for vegetarians, watching all your carnivore friends get excited about their food while you struggle through a taste-monotonous pasta. Vini is the opposite. The vego options are few, but with the menu changing daily, it’s always a surprise and delight (especially the flavour-packed rotolo, when it makes a cameo on the blackboard). In fact, given Will’s pro-Il Baretto stance, he got quite annoyed by my regular catch-cries of “take that, Il Baretto!” (often punctuated by me making a cartoon villain-style fist-shake) whenever I felt the enoteca had scored a point against its (in my mind) vego-unfriendly rival.
Even though Will turned up early to grab a table, he still had to wait 45 minutes for one. (Lucky he was on holidays and didn’t have to keep his eye on the clock to make sure his lunch hour wasn’t leaking away.) It was pretty crazy-busy when we finally got to sit down, and it was so frantic and crowded that by the time our food arrived, I had ten minutes left before I had to be yanked back to the office. (I’d forgotten that the best time to go was 2pm or later, when the midday rush had cleared out.) Still, I was pretty happy, ‘cos the food justified all of those hiccups. (Although I wonder if I am making excuses for everything in the same way someone does when they’re in a moony daze over their newly-acquired boyfriend/girlfriend and are happy to glaze over any shortfalls.)
Will had the Lasagne with Braised Beef, Olive and Artichoke ($17), which looked so good I had to I steal a non-meaty sample of it (contraband, but yum). Even though it featured one of his Least Favourite Ingredients of All Time, he was impressed – it must have ranked well to have won over his anti-olive tastebuds. I had a Spaghetti with Zucchini, Capers, Chilli and Cherry Tomatoes. The chilli was pretty muted, but it was a nice, homey dish. (Take that, Il Baretto!) I think we mis-ordered by stacking up on bread and salad, when we really should have left some room for the dreamy-sounding Panna Cotta with Espresso Caramel.
Well, it’s good to have something to come back to try – especially for the times I need a prison break from couscous lunch-making chores, and Will has a free hour up his American Apparel sleeve to wait for a table….
Vini, Shop 3, 118 Devonshire Street (restaurant is actually on Holt Street), Surry Hills, NSW 2010, (02) 9698 5131