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Friday, April 29, 2011

121 BC and PIzza e Birra, Surry Hills

Even when your best-laid plans go awry, sometimes you can end up with the most brilliant night anyway.

We hadn't meant to eat dinner at Pizza e Birra. Our sights (and stomachs) had been set on Vini and we'd arrived early to secure a table. Too early, we soon discover, and we're directed across the road for a quick drink while they finish setting up.

EDIT: 121 BC has closed

Arancini $3 each

We wander up Gladstone Lane and find ourselves in a tiny bar, the glass doors simply marked with Cantina and Enoteca in a large frosted font. There is little indication that we're actually at 121 BC, the latest venture by the owners of Vini and Berta wine bars.

The bar is long but narrow, taken up primarily by a wide tile-topped communal table tucked under with stools. The table is wide enough so that the people opposite can't quite reach your wine glass, but as the bar quickly fills, it soon feels like we're at one giant dinner party - maximum guests: 25.

Zucchini, ricotta $8

The blackboard menus change daily, and detail the available wines and dishes of the evening. All the wines here are Italian, with white wines listed on the left, reds on the right. There are twenty-one wines are available by the glass when we visit, and the 100ml serving size makes for casual sipping and room to explore. The wines are reasonably priced too, starting at $5.50 and topping out at $13. Most hover around the $6 to $8 mark.

We start with a couple of pre-dinner snacks. Arancini balls arrive on a rustic wooden paddle, spoonfuls of creamy risotto coated in a light but crunchy golden crust. There's also room for a plate of grilled zucchini strips, sweet and yielding against the dabs of fresh ricotta.

By the time we leave at 6.30pm, 121 BC is packed. Hopeful arrivals are resigned to camp out by the door. Of course when we arrive at Vini, we find the restaurant is full and there's now a 30-minute wait for a table. We're merry with wine by this point and head up Foveaux Street instead. The hill is steep but we know we need the headstart on the calories.

Pizza e Birra, Surry Hills

Pizza-making in the window of Pizza e Birra

There's plenty of activity happening on Crown Street, but thankfully we manage to snag one of the last available tables at Pizza e Birra.

Olive ascolana $7
Large green olives stuffed with savoury mince, crumbed and lightly fried

We started with stuffed green olives, deliciously salty in a shell of deep-fried breadcrumbs. The benefits of any hillwalking have already been negated.

Gnocchi beetroot $22
with garlic, chilli and broccoli finished with smoked provola

There are seven pasta dishes on the menu and we choose the gnocchi beetroot. It's a lot spicier than we expected, with a chilli afterburn that seems to detract from the sweetness of the beetroot. The gnocchi are a brilliant ruby in colour, and although soft, they feel a little soggy.

Pizza Sicilia $23
Mozzarella, fried eggplant, fresh ricotta and smoked provola

Choosing our pizza is much more difficult, with over twenty options listed. We're torn over the zuccafunghi with pumpkin and pine nuts and the with mushrooms and gorgonzola, but eventually settle on the Pizza Sicilia that includes fried eggplant and fresh ricotta.

Pizza Sicilia and pizza upskirt action

The fried eggplant delivers on its promise: deep-fried cubes that are wondrously sticky and sweet. Only a light layer of topping keeps the pizza slices quite floppy, but the beauty is all in the crust. Throughout our dinner I'd been transfixed by the pizza oven, a roar of flames crackling over wood as pizza after pizza was slid in on a paddle.

We paused to admire the pizza maker on our way out, using his fingers to push out the dough into perfect circles before tossing it in the air.

Dessert? I say to Miss Veg, and as we trip down the street I mention how long it's been since I've had a dosai at Maya Masala.

Maya Masala, Surry Hills

Masala dosai $9.90

I. Am. A. Terrible. Influence.

We walk the few blocks to Maya Masala and even as we look at the trays of silver-foiled burfi, the bright orange carrot halva and syrup-soaked gulab jamun, all we can think about is dosai.

We're already laughing at our gluttony, and although it takes about 20 minutes for our dosai to arrive, it's worth the wait. The folded crepe is ridiculously crispy, audibly crunchy from each end to its centre.

Potato masala dosai has always been my favourite, the texture and flavour of the spiced potato working so well against the sour tang of the crepe. The dollop of potato has a surprise bonus - pan-fried again so the edges are crispy.

We leave nothing but crumbs on the plate, although I was tempted to finish those too.

Did you spot Sydney's favourite food blogger in the trailers for the new season of MasterChef Australia? I cannot wait to tune in and barrack for Billy from A Table for Two - he's a talented cook,  photographer, karaoke singer and dear friend.

MasterChef Australia Season 3 kicks off this Sunday 7.30pm on Channel 10 and ChocolateSuze will be hosting a live MasterChef chat during every episode. Head to http://www.chocolatesuze.com/chat and join in the fun with a heap of Aussie food bloggers. And go TEAM BILLY!

Don't make Billy cry! [1:37]
And congratulations to Mel M who has won two tickets to the GourmetRabbit Baza'ar at Efendy Balmain! View Larger Map 121 Bc on Urbanspoon
50 Holt Street, Surry Hills, Sydney
(entrance on Gladstone Street)
Tel: +61 (02) 9699 1582
Opening hours:
Monday to Wednesday 5pm-11pm
Thursday to Saturday 5pm - 12midnight
View Larger Map Pizza E Birra on Urbanspoon
Pizza e Birra
500 Crown Street, Surry Hills, Sydney
Tel: +61 (02) 9332 2510
Opening hours:
Monday to Wednesday 5.30pm-11pm
Thursday to Saturday 12noon-midnight
Sunday 12noon-11pm
View Larger Map Maya Indian Sweet Centre on Urbanspoon
468-472 Cleveland Street, Surry Hills, Sydney
Tel: +61 (02) 9699 8663
Opening hours:
Open 7 days 10.30am-10.30pm
Related Grab Your Fork posts: Maya Masala, Surry Hills
23 comments - Add some comment love

posted by Helen (Grab Your Fork) on 4/29/2011 03:23:00 am


  • At 4/29/2011 5:13 am, Blogger joey@forkingaroundsydney said…

    I haven't seen the MasterChef teaser yet but was wondering whether Billy was going to make it this year since he's tried out the last two seasons; ecstatic to see he has! :-) I'm sure we'll all be barracking for one of our own, but seeing your mention of him being a talented singer, shouldn't he apply for The X Factor as well? LOL

  • At 4/29/2011 7:11 am, Anonymous Dumpling Girl said…

    I've been wanting to go to Pizza e Birra for ages, must check it out soon. Yay for Billy!

  • At 4/29/2011 7:14 am, Anonymous john@heneedsfood said…

    I feel honoured. Not only do we get pizza upskirt action but also an uptrouser peek into the dosai. Go Billy!

  • At 4/29/2011 9:26 am, Anonymous Tina@foodboozeshoes said…

    Wow - three places in one meal! Looking forward to checking out 121 BC and maybe working through that wine list :)

  • At 4/29/2011 9:35 am, Blogger Michelle Chin said…

    Wow food bloggers in masterchef!

  • At 4/29/2011 10:26 am, Blogger Stephcookie said…

    Mmm that fried eggplant pizza sounds divine. I'm a sucker for anything eggplant LOL @ the pizza upskirt shot!

  • At 4/29/2011 10:42 am, Anonymous Mel Marshan said…

    Thank you so much for the tickets to Efendy.. now i have to skip out of netball! Woops!!! Food over Exercise not even a challenge! Exciting for billy, can't wait to see the new season. And yes nothing better than a good base on a pizza out of a real roaring pizza oven!

  • At 4/29/2011 11:17 am, Blogger muppy said…

    I love the look of 121BC. And the dosa looks amazing, my favourite is paneer dosa. How exciting, can't wait to join in the masterchef chat!

  • At 4/29/2011 2:02 pm, Blogger Maria said…

    I don't even know where to begin, everything looks so tasty!

  • At 4/29/2011 2:20 pm, Anonymous Hannah said…

    I so KNEW, when I asked you about Billy in Sydney, that you were being evasive. KNEW IT! (That's why I didn't push, actually, because I could tell you weren't telling me for a reason). I've been keeping an eye out for him in the ads ever since. WOOOOOOT!

  • At 4/29/2011 4:29 pm, Anonymous chocolatesuze said…

    teehee upskirt! gooooo team billy!

  • At 4/29/2011 10:28 pm, Blogger Jen said…

    The pizzas at Pizza E Birra look impressive, will have to try them out. I love your photo of the potato dosai!

  • At 4/30/2011 1:57 am, Blogger Rita (mademoiselle délicieuse) said…

    Love the peek-a-boo shot of the filling of the potato masala dosa! Also very much enjoy tearing off the crispy bits at the ends to eat as is.

  • At 4/30/2011 2:14 am, Anonymous Nancy said…

    That gnocci beetroot pasta looks awfully small for $22. Was there more to it than your picture showed? I'm not a huge fan of overly spicy food, but it looks really delicious!

  • At 4/30/2011 3:09 pm, Blogger sugarpuffi said…

    fried olives @_@ sound very interesting. and GO TEAM BILLY! WHEE!!

  • At 4/30/2011 5:50 pm, Anonymous Chanel said…

    Nice feasting! Olive ascolana = brilliant! They look delicious, as does the pizza - I also find it so hard to choose, especially when there are so many options :D

  • At 4/30/2011 9:23 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Nice pizza crust! 121BC sounds like an excellent place to have wine and nibbles, will check it out.

  • At 5/01/2011 10:10 am, Anonymous Lau@Corridor Kitchen said…

    Oh, I had the beetroot gnocchi at Pizza e Birra in Balmain, it was amazing! So smoky and delicious.

  • At 5/02/2011 10:39 pm, Anonymous Ewan said…

    I'll definitely grab my fork and dive right into that Pizza Sicilia! Looks Yummy!

  • At 5/03/2011 1:05 am, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Wish I could cook a single dish above. All of these are mouth watering.


  • At 5/04/2011 9:08 am, Blogger susan said…

    What a great food expedition! I have watched the last 3 episodes of MC and they haven't spoken to him at all. Hopefully tonight will be his night!

  • At 5/15/2011 8:43 pm, Blogger Gianna@TheEmptyFridge said…

    I've been waiting patiently for any excuse to visit 121 bc, I should make one up quick smart!
    The olives ascolana from birra are my absolute favorite - I could honestly eat a bucketful with no complaints!

  • At 11/20/2011 7:14 pm, Anonymous sydneycool said…

    121 BC is one of our favourite wine bars - great food and the team who know about wine - keeps up the tradition if Vini and Berta


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