Visiting Sydney recently I asked my friend where we should eat for dinner. With literally hundreds of Asian restaurants in the CBD I was therefore surprised but pleased when she recommended an Italian restaurant. Not a pizza joint, but a proper upmarket restaurant, with fancy stem-wear and quality oils on the table.
Pendolino which means Pendulum in Italian, hence the reference to swingers is the brain-child (or should that be love-child?) of Nino Zoccali, who also owns La Rosa (the pizza and wine bar downstairs). Between running his two restaurants, Zoccali is also an olive oil judge and his love of this quintessential ingredient is clear from the moment you sit down at one of the closely fit tables in his dark and sophisticated restaurant.
I'm a great fan of anything complimentary, and also a great fan of bread so the beautiful bread basket that came with three different types of bread to dip into the three different types of olive oil was always going to be a winner. But this was really good bread with exceptional olive oil. It was so good I even bought a little bottle of the blood orange olive oil to take home with me ($15), or you can buy online.
Pendolino is dark. You need to watch where you are walking, and the waiters bring you a little lamp to help read the menu. With exposed brick walls, dark floors and an entire wall of windows permanently shuttered closed, one's attention is naturally drawn to the food. Or to the open-kitchen, only partially hidden by an intricate metal screen. If you feel so inclined, you can watch the chefs cook and plate up your food.
But based on the other guests the night we visited, Pendolini is patronised by business men impressing clients and each other, couples of all ages on romantic dates and family groups celebrating a special occasion. This isn't your destination for a quick, cheap night out, nor should you book your racy hen's night function here. This is serious.
For starters I ordered the special of the night. Prices were not mentioned (and they're not on the website), so I can't tell you how much it was. I can tell you, however, that it was delicious: raw blue eyed cod, finely chopped with baby capers, herbs, lemon, red onion and layered with a flaky pastry and mayonnaise sauce.
My friend ordered pork meatballs, which she had eaten before and enjoyed. They were full of flavour, and were still quite chunky and rustic: the meat had not been minced to within an inch of its (former) life. We did however, find it quite salty. It was to become a theme.
The winner of the night: blue eyed cod with cucumber and capers
Our mains arrived with fanfare, beautifully presented. My king mushroom pie was more of deconstruction, with a pastry base, thick creamy sauce, firm mushrooms, buttery potatoes, snappy asparagus and a latticework of potato, like a skinny hash-brown. It was rich and very savoury, although that was offset by the other components of the dish. I licked the plate clean.
Unfortunately my friend couldn't finish her dish, finding her spaghetti with seafood much too salty for her tastes, with no vegetables to find relief in. The waiter spoke with the kitchen, who declared it was the way it was meant to be. Regardless, the service was impeccable and they offered their apologies as well as removing the dish from the final bill.
The dessert menu is small and tempting. We shared the chocolate fondant pudding, which came with tuille, ice cream, crθme anglaise, chocolate crumb and why not gold leaf. It was decadent and rich and we were glad we only ordered one. I also think there was some salted caramel in there too. Like I say, it was a theme.
Pendolino is an occasion restaurant. It might be a special work function or family function, or perhaps you really want to impress your new date. It is a shadowy and sophisticated world with big flavours.
My biggest tip would be to make sure you order a side salad or vegetables to find relief in.
I'm all for low lighting, but if you need a lamp to see the menu then I think it is going a bit overboard. And considering the price, I wouldn't expect to have to order a side portion of vegetables on top.
Having dined there I can certainly agree that it's an occasion restaurant. And your eyes adjust pretty quickly to the darkness. It possesses a certain intimacy that can be hard to find in Sydney restaurants.