On trend ... Buffalo Dining Club follows the international fashion for mozzarella bars. Photo: Sahlan Hayes
- 116 Surrey Street, Darlinghurst, NSW 2010
- 9332 4052
- Wed-Sat noon-11pm
- Price Guide
- About $55 for two, plus drinks, About $55 for two, plus drinks
It's springy, elastic and seeping with milky juices. It's rich in calcium, high in protein, full of live lactic ferments and smells like a bucket of fresh milk. Buffalo-milk mozzarella is cheese in arrested development, the milky curd kneaded by hand under water until smooth as silk, then precisely pulled and pinched into perfect spheres and kept in brine. It isn't really made in order to preserve milk, as most cheeses are; it's just made to celebrate the freshness and the flavour of the milk itself, which traditionally comes from the first - and richest - batch of the day.
Too much information? Then don't come to Buffalo Dining Club, the latest offering from Michael Fantuz of Surry Hills's ground-breaking Table for 20, along with partners Marcelo Garrao and Peter Kypreos. They're a bit obsessed with buffalo mozzarella. So much so, it makes up most of the menu.
The remainder is devoted to Things That Go with Mozzarella - prosciutto, salami and little side dishes of vegetables and pickles. There are a couple of Things to Eat After Mozzarella - pasta, gnocchi - and quite a few Things to Drink with Mozzarella.
Buffalo mozzarella with two sides. Photo: James Brickwood
The mozza itself is the real deal - Mozzarella di Bufala Campana flown in three times a week from the respected Fattorie Garofalo just north of Naples. When you cut into it, it oozes milky whey like white blood.
Mozzarella bars, kick-started in Rome in 2004 by the sushi bar-inspired Obika, are currently spreading around the world. Obika now has outposts from Toronto to Tokyo. New York chef Mario Batali made a mozzarella bar as the feature of his huge Eataly gastrodome in 2010, while opening Osteria Mozza bars with Nancy Silverton in Los Angeles and Singapore. Closer to home, is the smart and simple subterranean all-day mozzarella bar in Fratelli Fresh, Bridge Street.
Buffalo Dining Club looks like a little upstairs-downstairs wine bar, with its casual stools and benches, liliputian tables and tiny kitchen. One wall is wine bottles, another blackboard menus. The detail is good - the plates look like paper but they're ceramic; and the glasses look like plastic but they're glass. Did I say it was small? The entire business could be packed away in a matchbox and taken home.
It's easy, drop-in, drop-out dining. Choose a cheese - mozzarella $17, cream-filled burrata (in season) $15 - and it comes with two small sides from a list that runs from honey-roasted fennel to balsamic carrots. Braised lentils are surprisingly compatible, but ''anchovies'' turn out to be the aggressively vinegary white variety, at odds with the gentle charm of the melt-in-the-mouth mozza.
A variety of salumi is offered in 30-gram, 60-gram and 90-gram lots, sliced to order and served on waxed paper. San Daniele prosciutto ($8 for 60 grams) is quite soft and moist - I think I prefer it a little drier and nuttier. Salami ($8) from local producer Quattro Stelle is good and rustic, while mortadella ($10) is served warm, though not as effectively as at North Bondi Italian Food or the old Omerta. As a bonus, there are crunchy little taralli (boiled and baked savoury biscuits made with olive oil) and bibanesi (short, extruded cousins of taralli from the Veneto) to nibble.
Spaghetti cacio e pepe (pecorino and pepper, $18) is theatrically served from a hollowed-out wheel of buffalo-milk pecorino, but it never rises above being a bland plate of pasta tossed in too little grated pecorino, olive oil and pepper. Eat cacio e pepe at Roscioli in Rome and the tonnarelli pasta is gluey with cheese and heady with pepper.
A dish of irresistibly light gnocchi ($15) is everything the spaghetti is not, made with buffalo-milk ricotta rather than potato and simply paired with a spicy tomato sugo that sings sweetly of basil.
As for Things to Drink with Mozzarella, the excellent Truman Pils ($7) is on tap, house wine is $7 a glass and a tight little wine list includes an intense, hard-working 2009 Antinori Santa Cristina (mostly) Sangiovese for $44.
I admire the bloody-mindedness of Buffalo Dining Club. It's a heroic little Italian food specialist masquerading as a bar, with a mix-and-match, wine-friendly menu designed for casual dining. Desserts are limited - tiramisu and gelato - but then, it's not the sort of place to stay for three courses and Gelato Messina is just a short passeggiata around the corner. More proof from Italy that doing one thing well is better than trying, and failing, to be good at everything.
We use the same ratings in our reviews as The Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide.
Best bit The absolute single-mindedness.
Worst bit It's very squeezy.
Go-to dish Buffalo mozzarella with two sides (eg. balsamic carrots and braised lentils), $17.
Address 116 Surrey Street, Darlinghurst. No bookings.
Open Wed-Sat, noon-11pm.
Cost About $55 for two, plus wine.
Score indicates Good, if not great.