Berta: Sagra dei Sottacetti (night of the pickles)

  1. an article of food that has been preserved in brine or in vinegar; specifically: a cucumber that been so preserved
  2. a difficult situation: Plight < could see no way out of the pickle I was in - R.L. Stevenson

Tonight's choice to attend Sagra was filled of both ends for me. Sagra dei Sottacetti meant that the 4 course menu at Berta would be an ode to pickles; and the difficult situation I faced? - registering for it despite my resounding hatred for gherkins (or any related). Well, it all concluded with a fairytale ending where I reached a common, deeper understanding for the unsung hero. Pickling with its ancient roots have imprints on many of our global cuisines and Head chef O Tama (Time Out's 2014 Chef of the Year) has successfully worked that out to her advantage, presenting a seasonal menu centered around the humble folk for a night. If you haven't heard of the Sagra at Berta, mind you, it's quite a mind-blowing experience.

Opting for the wine flight, we were served  I Frati 2012 Ca de Frati, a dry and crisp white with the intense aroma of green apples and lime. This went perfectly with our first starter - Soft Boiled Egg, gherkins, mustard seeds and dill. The wall had been breached and I tore down my inhibitions with the soothing aid of alcohol. Since all was done in house, the magnitude of pickling was put on a tight leash. The creaminess of the runny yolk creating an amalgamation of flavors with the herbaceous dill and sweet-sour gherkins. This kick started the meal with such gentle pleasantries, that left me eager to explore the rest of the menu.

Following closely was the Zucchini flower fritti, spiced honey, garlic and ricotta. Here, the strips of zucchini are gently pickled with a healthy dose of salt to coax the moisture out. The combination was respectable, all the expected bits of the formula are all there; the zucchini flower fritters, golden, blanketed with spiced honey and sweet pickled garlic lures the diner in with such warm invitation.

The next starter was a winner, Bruschetta, mussels, fennel, aioli. The mussels are kryptonite, flesh bursting with flavors from its luxurious bath in pickling liquids spiced with aniseed and chili flakes. The luscious aioli introducing fresher and brighter flavors to the dish. Albeit for the toast which could have used a little less time on the pass to guarantee it's crispness, I could not fault the near perfect execution and concept of it.

Gnocchi, tomato, scotch bonnets and Parmesan was the next item tasked to tease our palates. This dish offers quite a fiery kick with a restrained dousing of oil infiltrated with the ferocious capabilities of the Scotch Bonnets. 6 litres of oil to 4 chillies. Imagine that... It was a mammoth task not to wolf down the dish, the crusty pillows of pureed potatoes cooked to perfection, the snow blanket like shower of Parmesan adding considerable layers of flavor complexity. Together with the Tara ra 2009 Cantina Giardino (ripe fruits and spicy sensations), I mastered the strength to savour this dish with subdued restraint. DELICIOUS.

The mains featured an unorthodox choice of protein, chicken, which O Tama claims has never made it to the menu before. Balsamic poached spatchcock, Celery Salsa Verde, Capers, Celeriac Puree. Here, a Chinese method of cooking is employed. The bird slow cooked in a Balsamic and sugar reduction to fork tender. Celery leaves are lightly pickled to form the salsa verde that takes centre stage in this meeker flavored dish. Not to be missed is the huge bowlful of celeriac puree on the side that gives off a balanced tone of sweetness and muted earthiness. We dug in with reckless abandon, trailing our spoons hungrily around the edges in a bid to not leave any goodness behind. This was expertly paired with the Zibibbo 2010 Barraco, it's oily floral peachy notes abetting the feminine characteristics of the dish.

The dessert course was, how to do you put it? STELLAR. A play on a cheese course, the Pecorino, Castella, plum, cherries, Almon Nastrutium featured vintage red wine vinegar studded with sweet spices, everything from cloves to cinnamon to star anise. Green almonds are peeled and left to ferment in honey, leaving a few surprise boozed up studs on the plate. Flanked by an aromatic side of fruit biscotti, this contributed to the sweetness of the dessert and was a great platform to relish the luxurious pecorino cheese. Finally, adorned with an artistic palette of edible flowers, it was hard not to be smitten. The pairing of Cesare 2005 La Saiette (well balanced, cherry fruit notes) was spot on, affirming Berta's expertise in wine selection.

For those who are still a little perplexed over what happens on Tuesdar Sagra nights at Berta, in a nutshell, a 4 course menu is offered up in two seatings at 6pm and 8 30pm, during which a unique menu is created weekly featuring a seasonal ingredient. The tasting is light on the pockets and will set you back at $55/head and an additional $40 if you opt for the wine flight; for which I would strongly recommend. Definitely a good choice for a special occasion dinner. Just make your reservation early to avoid disappointments! 

17-19 Alberta Street
t: 02 9264 6133

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Meet Sihan

Snap Eat Love is Lee Sihan. 27 going on 28, she is a dessert enthusiast, food nomad, wanderer of lands and a pastry chef currently working in Sydney. Fueled by a lifelong addiction to all things sweet, and a burning desire to travel the globe follow her as she embarks on delicious escapades both in and out of the kitchen

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