Balla is a restaurant that could drive your eyeline crazy.
With concrete “bridges” evoking Milan’s canals, pixellated floral columns, a ceiling that splinters into endless shapes and colours, tiled lettering and giant typography, pendant lamps that look like spinning tops in mid-twirl and futuristic racks of wine – every detail feels like a conspiracy to divert your vision away from your table.
All this optical distraction makes sense, as this osteria is named after the statement-making Italian artist, Giacomo Balla, who was interested in the fast-paced, the machine-like and the industrial promise of the future. His ideas are there in the DNA of the restaurant’s design (by Luigi Roselli Architects), from the ceiling that pays tribute to one of Balla’s paintings to the “anti-neutral” uniforms of the wait staff.
Hi-tech look (and iPad wine lists) aside, your attention span deserves to be directed at your plate. Balla, after all, is the latest Sydney venture for the renowned Stefano Manfredi, and his team includes head chef Gabriele Taddeucci (Uccello, The Beresford). Unlike the interiors, the food has a simplicity that’s exquisite – a pared-back harmony rather than jolting cacophony. Sweet leek, tomato and eggplant colludes nicely with the milder ricotta in the Cannelloni Alle Melanzane, as does the small cast of ingredients in Will’s choice of Pappardelle with Kid Goat Ragu, Chilli and Pecorino. In a simple side dish – asparagus spears are charred to a rich, near-‘husk’, each bite like a smoky shadow.
Dessert is my favourite round at Balla. A nostalgia-struck Will orders the Pistachio and Caramel Cassata, as a fallback to days when his mother would make a version of this frozen sweet. Like many overenthusiastic diners, my near-full state isn’t a roadblock to ordering an extra course, but I didn’t want to pick anything regrettably rich and heavy duty either. So I choose the Espresso and Hazelnut Torta, which is a lovely and light creation by pastry chef Shady Wasef; each spoonful a silken scoop of nutty and sweetly bitter rewards. The alternating layers of cappucino cream add a hint of coffee-spiked lushness.
Balla has one of those long menus which baits you into returning, because there’s no way you could order all that intrigues you in one go. What still has to win me over, though, is the hurdle of getting to The Star (formerly Star City) – it’s not the easiest location in the city (as I’ve discovered from the times I’ve foolishly walked from the nearest train station). We decided to drive in to Balla: this simply resulted in many loops of shame as we circled the venue without getting any closer to scoring a parking spot (each unsuccessful lap a guilt-enforcing reminder that maybe we shouldn’t have taken the car).
There’ll be more chances for me to time-trial better ways to get here, though, given that The Star will soon be open to Adriano Zumbo’s newest outlet and David Chang’s first restaurant outside the US. And while there’s an understandable reluctance by some people to visit what is essentially a casino complex – on the culinary front, at least, Balla, makes a strong case on the “For” side.
Balla, The Star, Ground level, Retail Arcade, 80 Pyrmont Street (entrance off Pirrama Road), Pyrmont NSW 1800 700 700, www.star.com.au/dine/signature-dining/balla.html