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Sunday, March 30, 2014

Berta, Surry Hills Sagra Night: Mushrooms (CLOSED)

Chef cooking in the kitchen at Berta Surry Hills

EDIT: Berta has now closed

Phew! I'm back. So after a whirlwind month that included trips to Dubai, Melbourne and Hong Kong, I'm home again in Sydney. I've missed you. There was a sigh of happiness at Sydney's blue skies, waking up to birds chirping and there may have even been a tear or two when I was reunited with my bed. It's the simple things.

And despite the jet leg and impending sickness, nothing could hold me back from dinner with friends at Berta. Each Tuesday, Berta holds a sagra night. Sagra means festival in Italian and it's usually linked to a food festival of some kind. At Berta they use their sagra nights to showcase a seasonal ingredient, creating a one-night-only four-course menu. It's just like Iron Chef but without the dubbing!

Past ingredients have included watermelon, olives, figs, cherries, olive oil and honey -  the honey was sourced from their own rooftop beehive. Tonight's ingredient will be mushrooms. Four courses will set you back a very modest $55. An optional accompanying wine flight costs an extra $40.

Lombardo peppers with porcini butter at sagra at Berta, Surry Hills
Starter 1: Lombardo peppers with porcini butter

The restaurant is full for the 8.30pm sitting, filled with a happy mix of hipsters and older couples. There's a cheerful vibe to the evening - as though we're all part of an intimate wedding reception - and it's clear that many diners are regulars.

Lombardo peppers kick off our evening, a long and skinny Italian chilli pepper sauteed in porcini butter. It's a particularly explosive start for M who cops the only super hot chilli pepper on the plate - only one in seven peppers are hot, the rest are mild. It wasn't the red one either.

Button mushrooms with garlic chive crochetta at sagra at Berta, Surry Hills
Starter 2: Button mushrooms with garlic chive crochetta

The starters at the Berta sagra dinners usually include a mix of small canape-style dishes. Our second starter is a crochetta stuffed with button mushrooms and garlic chives, deliciously gooey with cheese in the middle.

Swiss brown mushrooms with preserved lemon ricotta cream at sagra at Berta, Surry Hills
Starter 3: Swiss brown mushrooms with preserved lemon ricotta cream

I'm a huge fan of head chef O Tama's take on the traditional bruschetta, slabs of toasted crostini slathered generously with preserved lemon ricotta cream and then scattered with Swiss brown mushrooms. The ricotta cream is lush and smooth, lightened with preserved lemon that adds a gentle zing.

Pickled pine mushrooms with cucumber and black fungus at sagra at Berta, Surry Hills
Starter 4: Pickled pine mushrooms with cucumber, black fungus, dandelion and chilli

Pickled pine mushrooms give the acidic tang that kickstarts our appetite for more. The mushrooms have a vinegary oomph but still retain their chewiness, tossed through with fat wedges of cucumber, crunchy slivers of black fungus and fresh dandelion leaves.

Head chef O Tama Carey in the ktichen at sagra at Berta, Surry Hills
Head chef O Tama Carey in the kitchen

Diners can sneak glimpses into the tiny kitchen from their seats, but there's no need to spy on the chef. After starters are served, head chef O Tama Carey comes out into the dining room to explain the entire menu. She takes us through the experimental dishes that were tried before tonight's menu was finalised. Saffron milk cap mushrooms, she soon discovered, do not taste appealing if you soak them in saffron milk - a idea she thought was genius at the time!

Lauren Norman, sommelier at Berta, then follows, explaining why she matched each wine to each dish for those partaking in the optional wine flight.

Oyster mushroom risotto with parmesan and horseradish macarpone at sagra at Berta, Surry Hills
Entree: Risotto with oyster mushrooms, parmesan and horseradish mascarpone

Entrees take some time to hit the table but cooking each table's risotto to order pays off handsomely - the risotto is perfectly al dente, the plump and creamy grains cooked with texturally meaty oyster mushrooms. We're instructed to mix the parmesan and horseradish mascarpone through the dish, adding a lovely and light creaminess to every mouthful.

Braised brisket with bone marrow, pancetta, button mushrooms and chestnut mushrooms at sagra at Berta, Surry Hills
Main: Braised brisket with bone marrow, pancetta, button mushrooms and chestnut mushrooms 

Mains of braised brisket are enticing enough, but it's the presence of bone marrow that gets us most excited. We ignore the advice to mix the bone marrow through this one, and instead scoop into directly into our mouths for maximum concentrated bliss.

The brisket is luscious anyway, tender and falling apart with a gentle nudge of a fork, amped up with salty strips of pancetta, button mushrooms and chestnut mushrooms.

Soft polenta at sagra at Berta, Surry Hills
Main side: Soft polenta 

On the side we delve into a salad of crisp iceberg lettuce and a bowl of soft polenta that is magical in its velvety smoothness. It's rich and creamy with a distinct underlying taste of corn. I wanted to curl up in a corner and savour this slowly.

Iceberg lettuce at sagra at Berta, Surry Hills
Main side: Iceberg lettuce 

Candied pine mushrooms with celery, Italian merginue and vanilla porcini dust at sagra at Berta, Surry Hills
Dessert: Candied pine mushrooms with celery, Italian meringue and vanilla porcini dust 

Mushrooms for dessert? Of course we did! Candied pine mushrooms are an ambitious undertaking and although we applaud the effort, they do feel a little out of place on the plate, with a squeaky savoury chewiness that can't be ignored. We love everything else on the plate though: the Italian meringues are blowtorched just so, and we can't get enough of the creme anglaise covered in vanilla porcini dust.

Overall a fun night out at a very wallet-friendly price. $55 for four courses is a bargain for this level of creativity and love on a plate.

Entrance to Berta, Surry Hills

Berta on Urbanspoon

Sagra is held every Tuesday night with two sittings: 6pm and 8.30pm

The upcoming sagra theme nights are:
1 April - Apples with Phil the farmer
8 April - Celery and celeriac
15 April - Lamb

The sagra night costs $55 for four courses with an optional matched wine flight for $40. For more details or latest information, check the Berta events site or contact them directly by phone.

17-19 Alberta Street, Surry Hills, Sydney
Tel: +61 (02) 9264 6133

Opening hours:
Lunch Friday 12pm-3pm
Dinner Tuesday to Saturday 6pm til late

Related Grab Your Fork posts:
Surry Hills - 121 BC
25 comments - Add some comment love

posted by Helen (Grab Your Fork) on 3/30/2014 12:03:00 am


  • At 3/30/2014 2:20 am, Anonymous ChopinandMysaucepan said…

    Dear Helen,

    I concur about the bone marrow. I wouldn't muck about either when something shexy and enticing is right in front of me.

  • At 3/30/2014 8:27 am, Anonymous Chris @ MAB vs Food said…

    Ooo mushrooms menu. I would have loved this being a mushroom fanatic. I'm with you, not sure about mushrooms in dessert though. Mushrooms should stay in savoury dishes.

  • At 3/30/2014 10:55 am, Blogger Unknown said…

    Such a delicious offering of one of my favourite ingredients. Now a Sagra with Bone Marrow would certainly have them lining up for sure!

  • At 3/30/2014 11:28 am, Anonymous Hannah said…

    Thank you for your first paragraph. For the first time, I'm starting to feel excited about returning home later this year. Your first paragraph helped.

    And, of course, the risotto and dessert. That too.

  • At 3/30/2014 12:27 pm, Anonymous sara | Belly Rumbles said…

    I have Berta's events page bookmarked. What a shame I missed out on the mushroom showcase, I'm a big mushroom fan girl.

  • At 3/30/2014 1:59 pm, Anonymous chocolatesuze said…

    oooooh dat bone marrow

  • At 3/30/2014 2:44 pm, Anonymous Amanda | Elsewhere Traveler said…

    Oh man. a. all that sounds amazing. b. bone marrow. c. I've not been there yet! Will have to try it out sometime in the near future....

  • At 3/30/2014 3:00 pm, Blogger Unknown said…

    Looks like some pretty good value there! Bone marrow that gets you excited? You and me both!

  • At 3/30/2014 3:40 pm, Anonymous Peymon|Epicsydney said…

    Hi Helen

    Thanks so much for this nice post. I've just found it. I think I definitely need to try this restaurant.

  • At 3/30/2014 5:01 pm, Anonymous pigflyin' said…

    Welcome Home!

    I am always so humbled and impressed by O Tama's effort to turn on a dime and cooked a new menu for a day is a living proof of the strength of the kitchen team and imagination....not to mention that the little risk in dishes they take makes this place one of the most interesting to visit in Sydney.

    I think they have passed their 150th Sagra earlier this year!

    So glad you made it there finally!

  • At 3/30/2014 5:49 pm, Blogger CQUEK said…

    beautifully captured.

  • At 3/31/2014 2:49 am, Anonymous Padaek said…

    I love mushrooms too bits. Love the look and sound of that soft polenta. :D

  • At 3/31/2014 11:10 am, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I was going to go to this!
    I have been wanting to try the sagra for ages, looks awesome.

  • At 3/31/2014 11:58 am, Anonymous angela@mykikicake said…

    What a fantastic concept to mix it up a bit with seasonal produce. Sounds like an awesome dinner!

  • At 3/31/2014 12:49 pm, Anonymous Tina@foodboozeshoes said…

    Argh, sad I missed this... love mushrooms! And dessert sounds interesting...

  • At 3/31/2014 1:31 pm, Blogger Unknown said…

    Mushrooms are something I can eat every day for the rest of my life. Shame I can't make it on tuesdays, they should so do weekend seatings.

  • At 3/31/2014 2:23 pm, Blogger Annie said…

    used to go here fairly often when i was working close by a few years ago. the bone marrow looks mouth watering! always loved their sagra nights!

  • At 3/31/2014 6:33 pm, Anonymous Michael @ I'm Still Hungry said…

    I'm not a big fan of mushrooms in general, but I must say that risotto looks delectable!

    Great to hear that Berta is also so affordable - 4 courses for $55 is a fair price!

  • At 3/31/2014 6:42 pm, Blogger Mel said…

    Welcome home world traveller! I've ALWAYS wanted to go to Berta and also to one of their dinners. $55 is a bargain price!

  • At 3/31/2014 9:34 pm, Anonymous Miss K @ The Food Diary said…

    Mushroom nights would probably be my dream dinner... love mushrooms so much!!

  • At 4/01/2014 4:05 pm, Blogger Milktea Eats said…

    so much mushrooms~ im definitely making my way there!

  • At 4/02/2014 12:58 pm, Blogger Cassie | Journey From Within said…

    Welcome back to Sydney!
    It's such a love/hate moment to come home after a "holiday". But yes, that feeling of being reunited with your bed is probably the best feeling!!

    I've never been much of a fan with mushrooms... but can't deny some bone marrow!! XD

    - Cassie

  • At 4/02/2014 12:58 pm, Blogger Cassie | Journey From Within said…

    Welcome back to Sydney!
    It's such a love/hate moment to come home after a "holiday". But yes, that feeling of being reunited with your bed is probably the best feeling!!

    I've never been much of a fan with mushrooms... but can't deny some bone marrow!! XD

    - Cassie

  • At 4/02/2014 4:24 pm, Blogger Unknown said…

    What did the dandelions taste like? I absolutely love what the Italians do with mushrooms!!! Sounds like an epic night.

  • At 4/22/2014 11:47 am, Anonymous Amanda@ChewTown said…

    Great menu! I love Berta, we go quite often. I read about this dinner but couldn't get there. I know it would be excellent!


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