You don’t expect to see a pinball machine in an upmarket restaurant and yet, right in the bar area of bel mondo, there’s an unplugged Maverick (the Mel Gibson film) pinball machine just begging for someone to play with (I wonder whether the staff go wild on it after the diners leave?).
Then again, the decor of this Italian-influenced restaurant is quirky to say the least. There are man-sized flowers lurking about (well, dwarf-sized, anyway), brightly coloured sofas and chairs in eccentric shapes, a gilt-edged mirror, lamps that look like tree branches, flashing lights underneath the liquor bottles and red plastic sinks in the bathroom that make me think of kindergarten. And keep in mind that all of this is housed in an old warehouse, complete with timber beams, that you access through an old stone archway and moss-covered steps from Argyle Street.
I’m here with a female dining companion (I’ll call her the FDC from now on) and we sit at one of the small tables near the bar. I order the negroni (Campari, Martini Rosso and Bombay Sapphire gin, stirred over ice with orange peel) and she orders the Bay Harbour Breeze (Absolut raspberry vodka shaken with pink grapefruit, lime and cranberry juice).
Scolding me for going for a classic cocktail, the FDC claims I ought be more adventurous but I made the right decision. The negroni is fantastic – to me, a well made negroni holds its own against any cocktail – whereas the Bay Harbour Breeze is, as the FDC admits, a sweet chick drink that tastes a bit like a lollypop (then again, I’m not a fan of raspberry flavoured vodka).
The bartender then suggests a drink that he just invented and which he describes as a mojito-inspired cocktail made from Jack Daniels. To be honest this sounds ghastly to me but I agree to try it out of politeness and morbid curiosity – and to my surprise I love it. Made with muddled limes, mint, Jack Daniels and a splash of Cointreau, it definitely deserves to go on the menu (I hereby propose they call it the Jackito).
Unfortunately, however, my love of the new cocktail only encourages the FDC into berating me even more for usually sticking with classic drinks and to prove it she orders the green tea martini (vodka, apple schnapps, apple juice and green tea) in defiance.
I must admit the green tea martini is better than I’d have thought – in fact, if you like flavoured martinis then I’d actually recommend this, since it has a gentle flavour that’s neither too sweet nor too … well, tea tasting – but I still snobbily believe the FDC doesn’t appreciate classic cocktails.
We also order two entrees (there’s no bar menu), namely the pan-fried scallops with roasted capsicum purée as well as the hiramasa kingfish with stir fried vegetable cannelloni, and when they arrive we take them out to the balcony. While the bar area is nice – aside from the tables you can also perch at the bar counter – to me it’s the balcony that really stands out. There’s a clear view of the Harbour Bridge as well as of the streets below, and it surprises me that, on a Friday night, we have the balcony all to ourselves.
The hiramasa kingfish is good but it’s the scallops that stand out: fresh, juicy and cooked just right. In the past I’ve had great fresh pasta here and I decide that if I ever go back to bel mondo again, I’d probably order the scallops as well as a pasta dish. And, of course, a couple of Jackitos.
Bel Mondo, Gloucester Walk, The Rocks, Sydney. Phone 9241 3700 or see the Bel Mondo website. Open Monday to Saturday from 6pm to late.
Now it’s your turn – how do you rate Bel Mondo?