TOP 100 QUEST: ACME, Sydney
When I was growing up my dad used to cook stir-fried spaghetti – Chinese ingredients, substituting spaghetti for Asian noodles. It made perfect sense to me. I think this is where I grew to love the texture and slipperiness of spaghetti and for me, it’s still a big comfort food – I could literally eat a bucketful. Speaking with people over the years, I came to learn this wasn’t a common dish, the usual response being a rather incredulous “Stirfry spaghetti????!!” – so I was pleasantly surprised to finally find some Asian-fusion pasta dishes at a restaurant, and a Top 100 restaurant at that! Maybe dad was onto something.
At ACME, chef Mitch Orr has created a buzz with his non-conventional Italian-Asian fusion style of food. On the menu, of which pasta makes up a decent percentage, you find the words tempura, shitake, curry leaf, black vinegar, and xo sauce right next to lasagna, burrata, fontina, macaroni and tonnato. Mitch has taken his experience in Italian cuisine (including at least three other Top 100 restaurants) and combined it with elements of the Asian food he’s enjoyed over the years. Mitch is the ‘M’ in ACME, the rest of the acronym being made up from the super-friendly team of Andy Emerson, Cam Fairbairn and Ed Loveday who were previously at The Passage restaurant/bar.
What you get here is very reasonably priced, small-ish dishes, great for sharing. Apart from the Fettuccine with abalone and XO sauce, everything’s under the $25 mark which really makes you feel like you can tuck in – go the whole hog – and so we did, including the hog’s head!
This day I was catching up with some friends who are soon to head off into the wild blue yonder and sail the Mediterranean for the coming years… yes, YEARS (lucky buggers)! So this was a bit of a last hurrah farewell lunch.
We started with the Burrata, persimmon and old bay. The burrata was creamy and oozy, yet stringy – good rustic fare with a bit of persimmon pizazz adding some tartness and fruity sweetness. The Kingfish, green olive and curry leaf was nice and subtle with the crisp curry leaf leaving a pleasant lingering flavour on the palate. Cauliflower is the vegetable of the moment. Mitch serves it with black vinegar and chilli. I was surprised it was served cold, but we loved it. It was glossy, lightly pickled and had a good chilli hit. The shaved cabbage with Caesar dressing was a super-fresh and crunchy slaw and made a good contrast to the rest of our dishes.
Onto the pasta – firstly the Linguine, black garlic and burnt chilli. At this point in the meal, my favourite dish so far. It had the flavours of an Asian fried noodle dish with a hint of smokiness from the burnt chilli and topped with a crunchy crumb. I had high expectations of the Fettuccine, abalone and XO sauce – however, interestingly enough, it was a little more mainstream than I expected. Still good though, and I like every good Chinese person, I can never get enough abalone.
What came next was dish of the day for me. Macaroni, pigs head and egg yolk. It came out with a sexy wibbly-wobbly egg yolk on top that you break and mix through. Don’t be put off by the pigs head. The meat was soft and tasty. The pasta was silky smooth and the dish was quite oily (in a good way) and velvety. To finish, we had the Lasagna, zucchini flowers and cider butter, a nice, fresh and natural end to our meal.
ACME is casual, it’s friendly and the food is unique. It really challenges your taste buds and I love the use of chilli in many of the dishes. I asked the effervescent Cam Fairburn how he would describe ACME’s food. He simply replied “It’s food we like to eat.” Well, it’s food that WE like to eat too, so that’s pretty damn convenient. Who need to categorise it into anything more than that?!