The waitstaff at Ortzi are super-fit. As in, cardio fit. And if they’re not already, they will be very soon. Sydney’s newest Basque restaurant has an upstairs kitchen, but no dumbwaiter lift, so there’s a lot of careful jogging up and down the stairs as they ferry plates from the kitchen to table.
The owners of the Darlinghurst pasta-haven Sagra have opened up next door to Surry Hills’ Butter and on that note, we’d like to introduce you to Ortzi. It’s a welcome addition to Sydney’s limited Basque dining scene—we can count the number of Basque (or Basque-inspired) restaurants on one hand. In a cooking style that’s typical of the region, most dishes come from the kitchen’s wood-fire oven, powered by ironbark and apple wood.
So, what’s on the menu? Well, pintxos, of course. You could happily construct a whole meal from these small tapas-like plates—a nibble here, a sip of wine from the all-Basque vino list there. Rinse and repeat. From the bar pintxos, you can score some deliciously meaty, gently-smoked Nardin anchovies, doused with fruity olive oil, and wiped up with their house-made sourdough.
I’m a number-one fan of the scallop gratin, with its light-as-air breadcrumb up top, a silky béchamel down below, and studded with sweet, firm Tasmanian scallops. My dining companion is allergic to shellfish (sucker), so it’s mine, mine, mine.
Be wary venturing into the entrees and mains. They are more substantial offerings—the waitstaff knows their portion-sizes as well as they know their step-count—and if they say you’ve ordered too much, you’ve ordered too much.
Case in point: an entree of lamb chops slays, but also slays my too-tight pants. The juicy meat is all the more heady with the slathering of anchoïade (a garlic-anchovy paste) atop. It’s fatty, creamy and salty—almost too much, and definitely too good, though I wish there was a wedge of lemon to break up the intensity.
The salted Murray Cod is deftly seasoned (der, considering the name), but I’m more attracted to the sidekick of firm black beans, cooked tolosa-style. It’s worth bringing an extra friend along for the no-doubt massive rib-eye steak main with wild mushrooms, as it’s best shared between three people.
If you can fit in dessert, I congratulate you. There’s a rich chocolate mousse, a cheese selection, and a Basque-style baked cheesecake. By the meal’s end, I’m as warm as the wood-fired oven, and nowhere near as nimble as the athletic floor staff. What’s the lesson to be learnt? Bring friends, and visit often.
Want to check out Sydney's new arepa-slinging restaurant? Sure you do.
Image credit: Alana Dimou