Since leaving the corporate ladder, I nowadays rarely dine in the CBD on a weeknight. But on this particular occasion, I was invited to check out the newly opened Vessel Italian which sits on the ground floor of the Macquarie building.
Vessel is split into three dining experiences - Vessel Italian, Vessel Cafe and Vessel Bar. The decor is beautiful, open and airy - paired with a substantial contemporary menu, it looked like just the formula for nearby office workers to grab an after-work bite. Meanwhile for me, it was date night.
The stuzzichini options are right up my alley. Think of nuts roasted with chilli and rosemary ($6) or mixed marinated olives served with house-made grissini ($6.50). We end up with two suppli'al telephono each ($3 each). These are the Roman version of Sicily's arancini; fried risotto rice balls with mozzarella, basil and saffron. They're piping hot and scrumptiously stringy.
This is the Vessel Valentine ($14), an awakening cocktail featuring raspberry vodka, lychee liqueur, fresh strawberry and red bull.
Onto the antipasti, although I was truly tempted with the fried local calamari ($17.50), I made a wiser choice and opt for the insalata di mozzarella di buffala ($18.50), a salad of prosciutto, tomato, basil and buffalo mozzarella.
We also share the asparagi alla millanese ($15.50) which is grilled asparagus with poached truffled egg and parmesan. We break open the perfectly poached egg and watch the yolk flood onto the asparagus, picking up bits of truffle butter and parmesan along the way. It's such a simple combination but so luxuriously rich in flavour.
For our mains, I couldn't go past the bistecca di manzo alla fiorentina ($38.50 for one/500g and $59.50 for two/1kg). It was honestly, one of the best steaks I have ever had! You can't beat a tastefully charred t-bone - a perfect blushing pink medium on the inside, and sensationally aromatic and flavoursome on the outside, thanks to the magic of gremolata.
Conversely, the marinara pizza ($23.50) was extremely disappointing. Everything about it seemed wrong, from the finely chopped king prawns, salmon, clams and fennel, to the dull pizza base and bland tomato sauce.
The side dish, a wholesome panzanella ($11.50) tomato, fennel and bread salad was slightly better.
My verdict? It has the makings of a stylish restaurant but somehow the menu is a hit and miss and the service is a bit awkward. Stick to the antipasti and grill for a winning meal.
1a Shelley Street, King Street Wharf, Sydney NSW
Phone: (02) 9295 5070
JENIUS & partner dined as guests of Vessel Italian & Bar and drinks were paid for in full