Imagine your grandma’s house designed by Wes Anderson and taken over by a group of hot-shot chefs who are suddenly feeling like nostalgic homebodies. With faded pink walls, dark antiques and a giant picture of a fish, that’s what Continental Bistro feels like. It’s the latest opening from the fathers of Bodega and Porteño, Joe Valore and Elvis Abrahanowicz. Despite literally sitting on top of their other recent venue, Continental Deli – which specialises in sandwiches, canned fish and charcuterie – the two floors will serve complete different menus.
Perhaps the only similarity between the two – aside from the shared drinks list – lies in Abrahanowicz’s nostalgic approach to the menu. While the downstairs menu serves spruced up versions of Abrahanowicz’s childhood lunches, the upstairs restaurant will do old-school European bistro food. “It'll be pretty simple, pretty classic. We just want to make food how we've learnt. Lots of these dishes have been forgotten. It’s all Nordic food now,” Abrahanowicz laughs. “I just hope people dig it.”
The menu, by ex-Porteño’s Jesse Warkentin, created in a bathroom-sized kitchen, doesn’t really look like anything we’ve seen over the past few years. With pot-au-feu, lamb cutlets, steak tartare and roast chicken breast with chardonnay sauce, it reads like a menu from a countryside French diner. Or something that might have opened, complete with white table clothes and soft jazz, in Sydney some decades ago. It’s not a criticism though, because Warkentin and his team will use only the best produce available.
Unlike most new openings there’s no share plates or tapas, it’s classic bistro style with four entrees, mains, sides and desserts. “The menu will change quite frequently, daily or weekly,” says Abrahanowicz. This week there’s an entrée of house-made prawn and lamb-brain ravioli with ginger, tarragon and prosecco sauce. “It's amazing, it's really, really delicious,” Abrahanowicz says with a grin. There’s a main of lamb cutlets, served alongside Continental’s own canned peas, purslane and a yoghurt sauce. The cutlets are crimson, grilled and juicy.
For dessert there’s a cheese platter from the primo selection downstairs, or one of Warkentin’s outrageously boozy rum babas. Rum babas are traditionally made with a tonne of alcohol, and this one is no different. The brioche-like, bagel-shaped cake is soaked in syrup and rum and served with Chantilly cream, mustard fruits, preserved cumquat and a little side bottle of extra liquor. Abrahanowicz, “just smashes heaps of rum all over it”. It feels like a good summary of what the bistro does: relaxed, simple food that’s fun and plays off the best features of both our produce and our past.
Continental Deli Bar Bistro
Upstairs, 210 Australia Street, Newtown
(02) 8624 3131
Wed to Sat 6pm–late