You wouldn’t want to throw a brick through the window of Besser in Surry Hills, it already has a tidy collection of 96 Besser blocks that line up its bar. But your reflexes will probably lean more towards the bouquets and applause end of the spectrum, instead of projectile-launching mode (plus, that kind of thuggish act is pretty douchey).
Not questionable at all is the concept behind Besser – it’s a more casual spin-off of the excellent pasta joint, A Tavola in Darlinghurst, and its dressed-down vibe is matched by the “Italiano informale” tagline, low-key interiors and accessible menu.
You might not recognise the site as the former Billy Kwong location (which, despite its endless culinary acclaim, was a little haunted by the reputation of its butt-cramping stools and tight confines). Thanks to the removal of a wall, the place has really opened up in size. The roomy, light feel is also thanks to Besser’s theme: it looks like the result of a casting session for an old-school backyard, minus a barbecue, shed and swing set. The Laminex tables and colourful plastic chairs are meant to evoke a childhood flashback of those unassuming days in the yard.
This casual ‘out the back’ atmosphere crosses over to the menu (overseen by head chef Sandro di Marino, from A Tavola) – sometimes quite literally. The Chicken ($24 for half/$36 for whole) is grilled under a Besser block (making it the restaurant’s signature dish, I guess?), while the one-size-fits-all nature of the menu leaves it open to people who want to just drop in for a drink and snack – think small plates such as Lamb Fingers with Yogurt Cucumber ($4 each), Fried Sardines with Garlic Mayonnaise ($4 each), or a Polenta, ($13), which has swirls of caramelised radicchio disappearing into a rich quicksand of cornmeal and dolce latte blue cheese ($13).
Or you could go for a pasta, such as the Tagliatelle ($23), which is as brilliant and simple as its ingredients list: mixed mushrooms, truffle butter and Pecorino. Whatever you order, say yes to blowing $10 on a side of potatoes, or the not-as-preachy-as-it-sounds salad of Carrots, Kale, Fennel, Ricotta Salata ($14), where deep-fried curls of that It Green complement roasted vegies and the light sprinkle of cheese.
Besser’s casual family feel is also evoked by Mum’s Birthday Sponge ($12), which layers sponge (soaked with spiced liqueur) with choc custard, orange ricotta and other flourishes worth plunging lit candles through. BYO party hat and sparklers.
Besser is also drawing attention for some signature moves, such as its ever-changing 6pm Risotto ($22) and its embrace of boutique wines on tap.
So this A Tavola offshoot has plenty of appeal. One caveat is that the service can vary from switched on and incredibly warm to a bit sluggish and forgetful, but maybe that is in keeping with casual at-home vibe, too. See you at out back.
Besser, 355 Crown Street Surry Hills NSW (02) 9331 1611, http://besseritalian.com.au. Follow Besser on Instagram.