Hot summers, BMX bikes and Sunny Boys. One bite of the baloney sandwich ($8) at ACME and you're guaranteed a flashback to your Aussie childhood. Remember devon sandwiches with tomato sauce on white bread? Head chef Mitch Orr takes you on a trip down memory lane but elevates the experience. That means pillowy waves of wafer thin shavings of mortadella and a dollop of umami-rich housemade tomato sauce jammed into the yawning jaw of a soft and sweet potato bun.
Dynamite light fittings
Acme means "the highest point" but it's also the clever acronym of the first names of the four partners involved in this venture: Andy Emerson (The Passage), Cam Fairbairn (The Passage, Pinbone), Mitch Orr (Duke Bistro, 121 BC) and Ed Loveday (The Passage). And I'm glad I'm not the only one who immediately thought of the Road Runner cartoon either. The dynamite light fittings are a cheeky nod to another childhood favourite.
The restaurant is bigger than you'd expect, with a clever seating configuration that maximises all available space. That means flexible counter seating along the front window, at the bar, and around the staircase leading to the private dining room downstairs. There are small tables in the front room, in the alcove facing the kitchen, and in the sunroom out the back.
There's a happy casual feel to the place, but there's also a marked attentiveness to detail. That means beautifully crafted water glasses, glazed ceramic plates and soft napkins in denim blue.
Purple Drank - gin, Campari, Americano vermouth and beetroot $18 and
Celery - rye whisky, citrus and soda $16
They've got ACME beers on the drinks menu (from California, USA), but the cocktails are what catch our eye. The Celery has a wicked kick of rye whisky but I dig the Purple Drank even more, a clever take on the classic Negroni rounded out with beetroot.
The menu has been designed as a series of small plates, so even the most expensive pasta - the squid ink strozzapretti - tops out at $24. They're all big enough to share between at least two people.
We sit down and immediately order the entire snack section. Between the four of us we'll manage to get through eleven of the sixteen dishes on the menu. Who cares that we have a second dinner booked at Berta at 8.30pm.
Pickled cucumber $4
The snack menu includes all kinds of tasty nibbles. That includes fluorescent planks of pickled cucumber, imbued with the alcoholic fizz of gin and tonic.
Rockmelon and prosciutto $6
Reinvention and fun makes its way to all corners of the menu, which is how you'll find yourself biting into juicy blocks of sweet rockmelon coated in a prosciutto crumb. It's the classic salt and sweet combo from your Italian trattoria with the added bonus of crunch.
Fried globe artichoke and chamomile $12
Fried globe artichokes are the only deep-fried thing on the menu. They're satisfyingly good, their nutty sweetness enriched with dabs of the mayo-like cream on the side, an emulsion that's actually made from chamomile and soy.
Asparagus and brown butter $12
The brown butter served with long spears of blanched asparagus involves mind trickery too. There's a moment of confusion before you realise the brown butter tastes just like salted caramel, transforming humble vegetables into some kind of madcap dessert. The toasted quinoa gives a welcome crunch.
Toast, semi-dried tomato and cuttlefish $12
You could be easily forgiven for thinking that's lardo on toasted sourdough, but it's actually whisper thin slices of cuttlefish. You'd swear that Orr is playing out a series of practical jokes with each dish.
But you get the last laugh really. The chewy slab of sourdough is the perfect carriage for squishy semi-dried tomatoes (made in-house) and the sexy silk sheets of cuttlefish. It's an eye-closing moment.
Beef tartare, walnut and witlof $20
Beef tartare is the final choice in the snack section. We relish its handcut chunkiness and the crisp ribbons of witlof piled across the top. The surprise inclusion of walnut works so well against the beef.
Head chef and co-owner, Mitch Orr
Mains are all about pasta, a passion that Orr has built on progressively since his pasta degustation events at Buzo. He's adamant about providing exceptional pasta at a budget price. We're not talking mountains of cheap spaghetti with greasy bolognaise. This is about fresh pasta made in-house. They even have their own mechanical pasta extruder to make all kinds of shapes.
Squid ink strozzapreti, octopus and chrysanthemum $24
I'm a huge fan of the squid ink strozzapretti, striking with its ebony glossiness against a background of blue. There's an awesome chewiness to the pasta twists, jumbled up with slices of tender octopus tentacles, fresh chilli and young chrysanthemum leaves - a vegetable I more commonly associate with Chinese hot pot.
Wholemeal bucatini, goat, nduja and olive $22
Bucatini usually has a wild and out-of-control slipperiness that makes slurping each strand a dangerous sport, but Orr's wholemeal version gives it a little more weight and substance. The hollow tubes add springiness to the left-field goat ragu, amplified with spicy nduja and salty accents of olive.
Lasagna, mushroom and sheep's curd $20
The lasagna probably isn't what you expect either. The thick sheets of fresh lasagna are more on the undercooked side of al dente for me but it's hard not to admire the forest of mushrooms piled between each layer. It's a bountiful harvest of shimeji, shiitake, nameko, wood ear and enoki mushrooms; the traditional bechamel replaced with sheep's curd and the entire lot showered with rosemary dust.
Macaroni, pigs head and egg yolk $18
Just as the baloney sandwich seems to be fast becoming the signature snack at ACME, so too is the macaroni, pigs head and egg yolk establishing itself as the pasta favourite. The wide stumps of macaroni are a far cry from the supermarket version, littered with torn shreds of succulent flesh from the pigs head.
Mixing the egg yolk into the macaroni
Mix in the raw egg yolk and you've got Orr's version of Filipino sisig, pasta-fied. It's rich and comforting, the kind of dish you want to savour, slowly chewing each yolk-smothered macaroni tube.
Nashi pear sorbet and rosemary meringue $10
Desserts are all about ice cream. We order two of the three but the kitchen sends out the last one anyway. We're glad they did. The nashi pear sorbet is instantly refreshing, covered in smithereens of rosemary meringue.
Malteser ice cream and candied bacon $10
Ordering the Malteser ice cream and candied bacon is a given, of course. The creamy ice cream has hidden jackpots of smashed up Maltesers, draped in a rubble of candied bacon. It's a impressive rendition, not just because it's salty and sweet, but because there's been some mastery involved with balance. The ice cream isn't jarringly laden with sugar and the bacon isn't harsh with salt.
Jerusalem artichoke ice cream and hazelnut praline $10
But the surprise winner of the night is the Jerusalem artichoke ice cream. It's another sweet and savoury combo theme that continues Orr's determination to make you question each spoonful. There's no mistaking the flavour of Jerusalem artichoke in the ice cream, but it's the curls of deep fried Jerusalem artichokes that make you want to eat more, even as your brain sends messages of confusion to your palate.
The savoury kick of the artichoke chips reminds me of khanom mo gaeng, the eggy Thai custard covered with deep fried shallots.
The private dining room downstairs
There's not much room here for a post-dinner amble, but staff are usually cool for you to head downstairs to check out the private dining room. It's a stylish set-up, complete with its own private bar.
Make sure you visit the bathroom too, for a Seinfeld-related chuckle or two.
60 Bayswater Road, Rushcutters Bay, Sydney
Tel: +61 (02) 8068 0932
Tuesday to Saturday from 5pm
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10/19/2014 02:09:00 am