PROFILE BY BEST RESTAURANTS
First Sticky Bar, then Table for 20 and now Buffalo Dining Club in Surrey Street, Darlinghurst. It seems Michael Fantuz and partners Marcelo Garrao and Peter Kypreos are making quite a mark on Sydney's dining scene.
Giving new meaning to the word "small bar", the twin-levelled Buffalo Dining Club is crammed with tiny tables and stools, and this is without any customers. No bookings are taken and it is a requirement that the entire dining party is present before being seated. First to arrive, I was greeted at the door by the handsome Mantus (his real name is a secret) and ushered to the so-called ‘bar' (a tiny two-seater counter overlooking a liliputian kitchen with a little bench where the boys prepare drinks).
What it lacks in size, Buffalo Dining Club makes up in aesthetic – from the waitstaff to the décor. A legendary wine wall, designed by Michael's wife features vertical rows of evenly spaced wine bottles, laid out horizontally on hooks, with space for the trio to jot down memorable sayings in white chalk.
There are expressions like ‘Viva Chile' (an ode to a stalwart Carmenere), ‘Pocket Rocket' (a feisty Italian waitress) and ‘Crash' (a girl who sent two wine bottles crashing to the floor after a night of drinking and merriment) that represent various occasions and people that have influenced the Buffalo team. After asking the boys about this wall – it turns out that customers from far and wide send email upon email requesting to get their "tag" on the wall.
Naturally, the menu is dedicated to cheese. Mozzarella di Bufala Campana is flown in three times a week from Fattorie Garofalo, just north of Naples. There is a set strategy to ordering, which requires the guest to select a cheese – mozzarella, burrata (cow's milk cheese) or caprino (100% organic goats cheese) – which is served with two small sides from a list spanning from honeyed carrots to braised lentils. We start with the silky mozzarella, served with grilled aubergine and salty white anchovies. The cheese is undoubtedly the hero, but the sides wield a power of their own. Our second choice is goats cheese, served with grilled broccolinni and polenta chips doused in gorgonzola. Again, it is all about the cheese. The polenta chips lack body and flavour, the gorganzola completely absent on the plate, and the grilled broccolini is, well, grilled brocollini.
Beyond cheese, a variety of salumi is offered in 30-gram, 60-gram and 90-gram weights, sliced to order and served on waxed paper. We order the Jamon Iberico and it is a great move. Spanish ham is incontestably the best; boasting a flavour and texture that cannot be rivaled. Crunchy taralli (savoury biscuit rings made from olive oil and boiled before baking) and bibanesi (crispy wheat biscuits in the shape of mini baguettes) accompany all the dishes and while they are good for nibbling with the meat, their presence on the other plates is overwhelming….trying to make up for the shortfalls of the sides? Pasta also features on the menu, their signature dish being buffalo-milk ricotta gnocchi, paired with a rich tomato sugo and basil. Spaghetti is served with a side of theatrics, brought to the table in a hollowed-out wheel of buffalo-milk pecorino. A full-bodied Argentinian Malbec from the wine wall is the perfect accompaniment.