So practical…Sopra

What time of the morning is it acceptable to start drinking?

If you’re on schoolies, the answer is probably as soon as you crawl out of bed- because it’s all part of disposing of the dregs from the night before.

My mother always maintained that midday is acceptable for a glass of white wine with ice, and in the evening so long as it was past 5.30 pm it’s fine.

On Christmas morning at my dad’s house, breakfast certainly isn’t complete without a glass of champagne.

But when the only way you can guarantee a table for lunch at Sopra, upstairs at Fratelli Fresh in Dank St, Waterloo is to get there at 11.15, it begs the question.

There is very little chance that I’m going to be able sit there in that big cavernous space, with the sunlight streaming in the open windows, surrounded by olive oil crates, peering at a menu laden with prosciutto without salivating for a cheeky little glass of rose.

Saturday morning’s are pretty sacred to me. They usually involve some quiet time with my north facing windows, a cup of tea (or seven) and the Sydney Morning Herald.

But last Saturday there was work to be done. The Hungry One had some things outstanding that needed all hands on deck, so I was bribed; help with this and he’d take me anywhere I wanted for lunch.

So we smacked through the work in an hour (nothing like a good incentive…) and we found ourselves trudging up the stairs to Sopra, narrowly beating the lunchtime rush. Sopra is Italian, in the best sense of it. No stodgy pasta or sleazy waiters here, thanks. Chef Andy Bunn uses whatever is best out of the produce downstairs at Fratelli to construct his menu and it’s simple, elegant and leaps off the plate screaming eat me, love me, come back and come early.
I’ve heard the food sing to me like that before and we’re quick learners.

There’s nothing quite like sitting smugly back and smiling at the queues of people waiting up to 45 minutes for a table. So, feeling slightly sanctimonious for being so early (a chronic habit with us, we couldn’t be fashionably late to anything if we tried- and we have…)we spent a suitably languid time poring over the menu which is written up on a huge blackboard.

So…would it be a mixed cured meat platter to start? As delightful as it probably is, there’s something about how it’s written up that makes me think of lunch meats, and I had a troubled childhood when it comes to devon sandwiches.

Chicken liver parfait? Toasted tuna and mayonnaise pannini? Or all of those other things tripping across in chalk that all sounded so good?

Decisions were made.

The first one is the most important.

11.45 am is now deemed to be a perfectly appropriate time for people who are unfashionably early to begin to drink on a Saturday. A glass of the Betanti Berta rose was ordered. I’m not sure if it was the internal sense of sinking guilt ( and I’m not even catholic) but it sat heavily on my tongue, like a squishy girl flopping down on a pillow. We started with the antipasto platter, which for the day was a mushroom, provolone and celery salad stack, looking like a little lego village, little muted blocks balanced on top of each other. Next to that was a pretty lusty pile of pesto green beans, a heap of Peperonata Mandorlata, busting about with roasted capsicum and sweet onion, and the revelation for me; caramellised witlof, with the sweetness of blood orange out manipulating any of the bitterness that you might expect from what can be such a mean little leaf. Instead, here it was almost boozy, stickily sweet and relaxed, just sluttily lying there, waiting for you to conquer it with a fork.

That was all fairly quickly demolished and we moved onto the king of toasted sandwiches- a toasted pannini with roast chicken, grain mustard, celery and mayonnaise. Crunchy yet gooey, with an overgenerous dollop of chicken mix just spilling out the sides as you squish the sides together…. the mark of how good something is when we eat out is how little conversation comes out of the Hungry One when he’s eating it. When you’re talking toasted panninis like this one, not a word is uttered.

More Rose was ordered, the queue gets longer and we’re feeling pretty full and pretty full of ourselves. The Hungry One had is eye initially on pasta, but I managed to bully him into a cheese course.

It should be said though, someone in the kitchen here is having a love affair with celery. To me it seemed to be everywhere. Out it comes again, a lone stick of inner stem squatted next to the oozy taleggio, hunk of regianno and squelch of gorgonzola piccante. The oat crackers fanned next to it all are a bit boring- the combination of them with the celery reminds me of earnest lunches at my aunt’s. But the gorgonzola piccante is so ripe, I half expect it to roll onto the floor. It prickles around in your mouth and I would have giggled with glee if only was some pear to go with it. If I wasn’t feeling lazy and half boozed at 12.30 I would have run downstairs and bought one to bring upstairs.

We roll on into dessert. The tiramisu was calling, there’s nothing like seeing how the experts do it. But we were distracted by a flirty, unknown foreigner. Spazzarhino. Grand Marnier gelato, topped with ground coffee. Now this is where dessert curiosity has paid off. Creamy orange tinged gelato, like a Fanta spider, but so much better, with the coffee adding a dirty complexity. It tasted fresh, adult, sophisticated. It’s so good that days later I’m still looking at everything I eat and wondering whether it would taste better if I sprinkled ground coffee on it.

The Hungry One and R2D2 (aka the shiny espresso machine that stole my prep space) are pleased with this. Everyone likes to feel useful.

And everyone loves to feel smug, full and boozed at 1pm on a Saturday.

Until it gets to 4pm and your head starts to hurt.

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