The Unbearable Lightness of Being Hungry | A Sydney Food Blog

Orto Trading Co., Surry Hills

April 21st, 2011  |  Published in Uncategorized  |  17 Comments

Orto Trading Co., Surry Hills

I think this may be my new favourite restaurant.

I kinda had high-level suspicions that Orto Trading Co. in Surry Hills would be good – it’s by the people who started Baffi & Mo in Redfern (Anne Cooper, Louise Hunt, Chris Low), a cafe that near-instantly became one of Sydney’s best breakfast joints after it first opened. Their new operation is so great, though, it may even outblitz their previous project.

Orto Trading Co., Surry Hills

Since moving on from Baffi & Mo, the Orto Trading Co. crew has outgrown the moustache fixation, and focused on a modern bistro with lots of likeable flourishes and inventive, upcycled decor. Outside, they’ve created DIY kitchen gardens by taking stacked pallets and lining them with small buckets of parsley, oregano and basil. One large table is constructed from an industrial sign. Meals are illuminated by candle-holders made out of jam jars. Old bottles are tucked with flowers and suspended above the bar as height-defying vases.

Orto Trading Co., Surry Hills

The likeable wit also extends to the food. While you wait for your order, you are served a small bucket of popcorn as an appetite-containing snack. It’s a fun twist on the usual bread you get as a meal-starter at restaurants. The popcorn is laced with a little truffle oil and, even as a truffle-oil naysayer, I have to admit that little dash of flavour gives that cinema staple a nice bite. This trademark touch of popcorn seems to be a deal-breaker for some people – a few folks I’ve mentioned this to say that they’d be happy to eat at Orto Trading Co. just for this fact alone.

Orto Trading Co., Surry Hills

Here’s for an embarrassing admission – we actually ate three small buckets of popcorn before we got to our meal. But, you can’t pin that entirely on our greed; there was also an unusually long wait for the food.

We’d ended up at Orto Trading Co. on the first night it opened and – surprisingly, on a cold Tuesday with little advance notice of the opening sign going up – the restaurant was utterly crowded. From the start, we were told there’d be at least an hour-long delay for our meals. Under such hunger-haunting circumstances, the staff was extremely kind and lovely (how could you not like waiters who kept plying you with popcorn to reward your patience? Or their knack for describing the wine list as having reds, whites and “some cheeky rosés”?). They were accommodating and continued to be sweetly apologetic, even though they’d clearly told us how much time it’d take before any dishes would hit our table, and we were fine with accepting that long-wait bargain. It was the bistro’s first night, after all, and we just had the bad luck to be seated just after a massive party had put in its orders.

Orto Trading Co., Surry Hills

The thoughtful, ultra-attentive service sweetened the wait, and the food was such a pay-off. Spunta Potato Batons ($9), golden-brown and delicious, were sprinkled with chilli salt, and quickly disappeared under stealth attack from forks and etiquette-shunning fingers. Will enjoyed his Slow Cooked Pork Shoulder ($28), its slices served with paint-like strokes of carrot puree and brussel sprouts so tasty (charred, sweet, crunchy) that they could reboot the poor reputation the maligned vegetable has with kids. The dish was very rewarding on the eye – almost painting-perfect, and in fact, the pear it was served with looked like something taken from a classic still-life.

Orto Trading Co., Surry Hills

Now, a Cabbage Roll ($24) may not sound so attractive (I think sad uni bain-maries are to blame for our queasy apprehension), but at Orto Trading Co., this dish is laced with such well-measured flavour – a light tangle of wild mushrooms, gritty-toasty walnut crunch, salty linger of goat’s cheese, simple pearl barley stuffing and rich sweetness of house-made tomato sauce. It’s a lovely mix.

A fine side dish is the Autumn Vegetable Salad, a pretty pile of baby zucchini, squash and brussel sprouts – lightly cooked and still colour-bright, garnished with French tarragon and placed on smears of carrot puree ($12). It’s a much-appreciated upgrade on the usual steamed vegies or joyless leaf salad option. In fact, all the offerings here play nicely against the stock standard ideas. There’s a lot of originality at work – a lovely relief from the case of menu deja vu you can get, when the same dishes keep reappearing at most restaurants.

Orto, Surry Hills

I’d watched the desserts travel the room all night, and it was a great shame that we had no time/stomach-space left for a Gingerbread Crumble, Rhubarb and Pomegranate Trifle or Chocolate and Chestnut Mousse. I also would love to come back to try the cheeses, which sound like intriguing stand-alone courses instead of the item that tries to bring life to the tired cracker + dried fruit equation. For instance, Touree de L’Aubier is served with autumn fruits baked in parchment ($12), La Luna Holy Goat is accompanied by celeriac remoulade ($12), and Pyrengana cheddar gets hooked up with pear piccalilli and home-made pickles ($12). Sounds like great bait for the cheese-curious.

Oh, and Orto Trading Co. also will be open for lunch for part of the week – so I’m keen to see what the options are like then, too.

Not that I have to search hard to find reasons to return to this new favourite.

Orto Trading Co., 38 Waterloo St, Surry Hills NSW 0431 212 453,

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  1. Lovely! Thanks for the review 🙂 must check it out soon

  2. 3 buckets of popcorn before dinner!? No wonder you didn’t have room for dessert 🙂 The concept and dishes sound interesting.

  3. tori says:

    Cheeky pink wine AND popcorn? Sounds too good to be true….can’t wait to come home and check it out.

  4. Wowee, sounds like a go-er. Must tell my ma & pa (huge foodies, like me)… PS I want to be buried in a vat of truffle oil!! PPS I need to stop reading your blog at 10pm. It’s DANGEROUS. Lx

  5. oh i was wondering when it will be open! thanks for the review and will definitely check it out soon!

  6. Cathy x. says:

    omg that pork shoulder looks amazing.. truffled popcorn?! that’s it! i have to go there! :P*

  7. Siobhan says:

    This is definitely my new favourite restaurant too! Had a great time there last night. The food, service and ambience made for a relaxed evening.

    As a fellow vegetarian, I really appreciated the autumn vegetables being served simply as vegetables without the need to be drowned in olive oil. The pumpkin and pine nut parcels were great – I expected the standard filo pastry, pumpkin and cheese combo but these parcels were more like pan fried ravioli.

    I can’t wait to go back – any restaurant that makes a great Pisco Sour and plays The Smiths is a winner.

  8. Vix says:

    I am so jealous. Chris Low is my boyfriend’s sister and he is not just an amazing chef, but an amazing person. I am so sad not to have been there for opening night, but it touches me to read such a lovely review. I am sure they will iron out the issues with waiting time in the weeks to come, and I am so glad that you found the waiting staff accommodating (my sis included) and that you still praised everything. JEALOUS!

  9. hollypop says:

    had dinner here on friday and it was so lovely.
    we had the rabbit and the duck. the duck was forgettable but the rabbit was so good. the staff are wonderful and the fit out is so charming. my new favourite too.

  10. Vix says:

    sister’s boyfriend, that is!

  11. Absolutely love it. 6 of us went there for dinner 2 weeks ago. Brilliant in all aspects. Including service, which is often dodgy in new trendy places, Toby

  12. Sophie says:

    Looks great! Is there a separate vegetarian menu? It looks extremely meaty judging from the menu on their website!

  13. leetranlam says:

    Thanks for all the lovely comments.
    @Sophie, there’s at least one vego main and one vego entree and lots of vego sides. I know other vegetarians who’ve been and found the menu quite accommodating and the vego dishes are really inspired and interesting – no default mushroom risotto here!

  14. andrew burns says:

    I ate there last night for the first time and was totally underwhelmed. They have made a valiant effort to create an intimate environment in a dreary concrete space located in one of the ugliest new builds in surry hills.

    The main plates are for 1 and a half people which just seems strange. I had the stuffed rabbit (one leg) which came with a huge piece of cold terrine which was quite incongruous, no bread or veggies so I ordered a side of baked artichokes which were over cooked. This ment the main course came to $50 which is ridiculously expensive for what it was. The stuffed rabbit was tasty but why serve it with cold rabbit terrine?
    The wine list is interesting but little choice by the glass, service average.

    Will not be going back.

  15. leetranlam says:

    Hey Andrew, sorry to hear that you weren’t won over by Orto. Someone from work went last night, too, and had a totally different experience to you. Different strokes for different folks, I guess. I can see how some people might prefer a one-size-only main, but I like how the bigger portions mean you can share and swap parts of dishes with your friends. It seems to make it more of a social experience. I’ve been 3 or 4 times now, and really enjoyed it every instance, sorry to hear that you didn’t.

  16. andrew says:

    Sharing’s great, it would make sense to me if you want people to share to have lots of small plates rather than plates for one and a half, that why tapas work so well, why reinvent the wheel especially if you’re trying to create an Italian style restaurant. Having a hot stuffed Rabbit leg on the same board as a rabbit terrine just seems strange. Also they have no Italian wine on the list which is odd as they seem to by trying to push an Italian theme, having a NSW Sangiovese on the list doesn’t really constitute an Italian wine choice. Also $50 for a slice of terrine a rabbit leg and 5 baked artichokes seems a little steep, but as you say different strokes for different folks, and if you want real Italian food with fantastic Italian wine at reasonable prices then there’s Vini just around the corner!

  17. leetranlam says:

    Andrew, sure, I totally understand. The one thing I’d say is that Orto, despite the Italian name, is actually not trying to be Italian. The menu is heavily British, hence the toad-in-the-hole, rarebit, etc. Vini is a gem though, I will second you on that!

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Hi, I'm Lee Tran Lam. When not blogging with my mouth full, I'm usually writing, presenting Local Fidelity on FBi radio, making zines, producing podcasts or continually breaking promises about how I really am gonna get through my book pile one day.

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This is a blog about eating and drinking in Sydney, Australia (with the odd cross-border or off-topic detour). BYO appetite.

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