I had heard little about Orto Trading Co, then all of a sudden there were 3 birthdays in a week, all celebrated there, and each celebrator INSISTED I had to go there for mine. This was way enough to be a sign from the food gods, right? So I decided that is where I would have my big family birthday celebrations. Only things happened, as they do, the plans were changed, and Orto was put to the bottom of the list. Sigh. This was until I went to an awesome Gruen Transfer recording very last minute, and even more last minute got hungry and led there by my father, spurred on my my mother having gone there without us the night before.
I called ahead and was told there were no tables available but we could be squeezed in at the bar. $1.50 got us an hour and a half on the parking meter right outside, a bargain for Surry Hills, and as we walked in we found things had changed and a table was available for us right next to the kitchen. A truly rockstar arrival, if you ask me.
The place is very cute, with bottles filled with flowers and lights hung from a metal frame attached to the ceiling as the centrepiece. The rest of the room is actually quite simple, with tealights and flower arrangements adorning each table and some exposed brickwork bringing it together with a homely feel. The outside had gorgeous pots of herbs and antique outdoor furniture inviting later guests who preferred a smoke and a beer.
There is also a microherb garden on the kitchen counter, and maybe I am just a sucker for some greenery but I really like these little touches and the place felt just right for a late night meal with a relaxed atmosphere after a long day. Appropriately, Orto is the Italian word for ‘a vegetable garden’, which seems to really fit the theme.
I was very relieved when my father agreed to have mostly vege food. I wanted to sample pretty much everything on the menu, and my mother had sent me a picture of dessert from the night before, and there was no way that was being left off the list.
We begin with a “Bite” from the menu. A Long Red Chilli stuffed with herbed labna arrives looking pretty dangerous, but is actually very mild for the two of us who are both self-confessed chilli addicts.
Next are the Cauliflower Fritters with Curried Pear Sauce. Aside from fried cauliflower at Lebanese which I LOVE, the best cauliflower I have had in a while was at the pop-up restaurant Greenhouse by Joost in Circular Quay, so I am keen to see what these are like. I just don’t think you can go wrong with deep-fried anything, personally, but these are awesome in themselves. They are crunchy and a little oily but just enough to make the vegetable go soft. The Curried Pear Sauce is interesting, a little unusual perhaps, but the curry breaks up the oil of the fritters and the whole dish is impossible to stop picking at. We have to agree to them taking it away before the rest arrives as we know we won’t get through the rest of the meal if we finish it off.
The next dish, Free Form Corn Dumplings with a Whole Grilled Cob, Crusted in Spiced Crispy Quinoa, is not exactly what I had expected. Zucchini flowers, corn and little doughy balls make up the “free form dumplings”, and I scrape off the “whole grilled cob” into each of our plates. Each element is really nicely thought out and everything compliments everything else. I am getting full already, but it’s just so good we do eat quite a bit of this one as well.
The last main to come out is the Beetroot Carpaccio with Minted Quinoa, Lime Cured Apples, Roasted Mixed Seeds and Crispy Goats Curd. This is fresh and crunchy and crispy and tasty in all the right ways. The beetroot is perfectly sliced, so thin it’s like paper and it sits on the bottom of the plate in sexy dark puddles. On top of this is the quinoa, which has a different texture to the one before and is topped with a delicate, hair-like strips of a fried shell which houses the creamy, rich goats cheese inside. This divides the lime cured apples on the other side, which are tangy and unwilted and round off the palate well.
At this stage we know we will not be able to finish off the mains, and ask for a doggy bag. Firstly, I absolutely detest wasting food, and secondly, there is dessert to be ordered! I cannot find the name of the one we had anywhere, but I know it was something along the lines of Spring Garden. Well… Garden it is! Arriving on a wooden board, as with the rest of the food, there is a little timber box housing a small flower bed, complete with chocolate-rock soil. There are micro basil-leaf weeds, daisies and lavender scattered around the base, and growing up from the dirt are three separate components to taste. One, a sugar-encrusted, moulded lavender marshmallow swirl in the shape of a lolly-pop, that the greatest Oompa loompa would wish they had had a part in designing. The next is a small popsicle which has been dipped in pistachios, and the third, a fruity version of an ice-block, but fresh instead of frosty. It gets better, beneath the chocolate dirt is layers of flavoured ice-cream. Honestly, this is one of the most imaginative, well-thought out and creative desserts I have ever had. I love seeing people create food, not just serve it, and at Orto Trading Co. this is definitely the case. The presentation and ambiance is also divine, making for a really well-rounded experience. The menu we sampled was the Spring menu, which looks like it will be sticking around for a while. Make sure you go before the Spring Garden disappears. Even though I already know what I can have, I will definitely be back!
Orto Trading Co.
38 Waterloo St, Surry Hills
0431 212 453