Caffe Sicilia, a fairly new restaurant on Crown Street in Surry Hills, confused me. When I first read about it, an Italian restaurant specializing in Sicilian food, I was interested. The reviews were good. When I saw that it had taken over from the Thai restaurant, Yai (a perfectly decent Thai restaurant but I wondered how they could manage to pay the rent of such a large space in Sydney’s centre), I was impressed. The place has completely transformed: into a bistro that could be found in Paris or Rome, and when summer arrives, when they can leave the entire front of the restaurant open to the weather, it will be glorious.
But reviews from friends in the area were mixed. Each rave review was matched with a negative one. A few friends had recently raved about it, but then when I told them I was going on a Monday night, they revised their review: lunch is terrific, they said, the dinner menu is completely different.
Still, I was game. I was hoping for a great meal. Why would you ever go to an eatery without expecting it to be satisfying? But the food wasn’t the problem. We were seated at our table for two, right next to the sidewalk, underneath a slightly too-hot heat-lamp. The waitress, possibly Eastern European, was efficient, and trying to do her job well. But asked us if we were ready to order only minutes after we’d received the menu. We decided to order wine, and asked advice, but she needed to refer us to an Italian waiter, who was decidedly unimpressed when I told him that I wanted a recommendation from among the $50 wines. We were asked three times if we were ready to order… when we were not ready – and it’s not as if the restaurant was busy and needed to turn a table.
Our appetizers were a soft goat’s cheese drizzled with honey and with almond flakes, and whitebait fritters, round disks of fish-flesh served with a home-made aioli. Both were good, though not special (and both about $15). The wine, which we were assured was very good by the waiter, was drinkable and plain. OK but possibly not OK for $50 (none of the wine on the menu, including Australian, was for less than the high-40s. Really an expensive list). My companion had the special of the night (mains were generally $20-25), John Dory fillets, rolled, crumbed and fried with an eggplant mixture. It looked spectacular. But he said it was only OK.
My main, however, was fantastic. A ‘swordfish tart’, instead of a pastry crust, a thin layer of swordfish made into a crust and hidden beneath, a perfect combination of sweet, rich, soft eggplant and tomatoes. So, the olive garnish was the same as the free olives we’d gotten for the table. This was a tasty and unusual dish!
We passed on dessert, but then were given a box with a muffin and a brioche to take home with us. I didn’t try the brioche but the muffin, with a sweet cream cheese filling, was delectable.
The promise was there. With service a bit more charming and a reasonable wine list, I think we could have been pleased with a fun night out, eating regional Italian cuisine, homestyle and honest. But with awkward and abrupt service, overpriced wine, and only 1 out of 4 dishes outstanding, the $140 bill for the two of us felt too much. I’ll probably try it for lunch, to see if my mind can be changed. Otherwise, it’ll be two, rather than three, strikes and they’re out.