Creative deli eats with a hand-canned-do attitude.
MUST ORDER steak tartare; neopoli-tin ice cream; mortadella (or charcuterie plate); rigatoni/rigatini
AMBIANCE Equal parts deli, bar and fine-diner
WOULD I GO BACK? Regularly
Continental Delicatessan is somewhere I could eat every day. All of the food is absolutely delicious, especially if you’re a meat and cheese sort of person. If you’re vegan, I wouldn’t necessarily bother going.
Continental in Newtown is far too dimly lit upstairs, and far too squishy on the bar stools downstairs. It’s not comfortable enough to take an unadventurous person, or anyone disabled or with a bad back. The second, CBD venue is far more comfortable, with booth seating and natural light.
Service is very preoccupied, but they’re always friendly and knowledgeable.
There are two types of menus: the deli menu, and the bistro menu. The latter has more substantial dishes.
Famous for house-canning its pickled and cured delights, the deli’s menu is based around three categories: tinned fish, charcuterie and cheese. Let me break it down for you.
You can’t go past classic Oritz anchovies ($22) or the cambados octopus ($24). However, I’d highly recommend those who are fish-inclined simply order a selection of Continental’s best, known as the Continental canned seafood plate ($35). You’ll need bread, too.
Next stop, charcuterie. Everything is delicious, sourced both locally and internationally, but I find the main game is their mortadella ($9).
If you want to go hard on cheese, go hard cheese. It’s hard for me to make a recommendation because cheese flavour is so personal, but their aged cheddar is fab. I’m also big on blue. All of the cheese comes served with crackers (similar to Vita-Wheats), a fruity chutney, small (hot/sour) peppers and olives.
I cannot recommend enough that you trust the chefs, and go with one of their deli selection options. You can get the Continental charcuterie plate ($30), Continental cheese plate ($36) or Continental cheese and charcuterie plate ($45). I’ve had them all, and I think the cheese selection wasn’t as good on the cheese and charcuterie plate, so perhaps choose either the cheese or the charcuterie plate, and not the combination plate. I think they do charcuterie better than cheese.
I am always interested in knowing what’s popular, and what’s signature. People love Continental’s Gilda ($3.50 each), which is an olive, oritz anchovy, guindilla on a toothpick. I have never, on my three visits to Newtown, not ordered the iconic steak tartare ($24) topped with parmesan and squished onto a vehicle of gaufrette potatoes. No restaurant (in my experience) does a better steak tartare, and no one does the chips better either. They’re crunchy, not too oily, not too salty, and the perfect size and shape.
To be honest, it’s hard to order wrong with this menu, but particular to the bistro highlights are the scallop with jamón xo butter and preserved lemon ($6 per scallop), which is warm with a bit of a kick. The grilled king prawns with lardo, coconut and lime ($22 for two) are generous and juicy.
The kurobuta pork loin with bbq peppers, rockmelon and nduja tapenade ($36) has an inedible strip of undercooked fat along the side, but is otherwise a delicious combination, if over-ratioed on the peppers.
The two salad options are fantastic. Rocket salad with maple walnuts and pecorino romano ($14) is sweet, crunchy and simple, or you can go for the more acidic fennel, charred beans, peanut pesto and chilli viniagrette ($18) option. The CBD venue does the best of the salads, of grilled peppers, burnt honey, olive jam and ricotta ($26). The marinade was not overly oily or sweet, and there were green, red and yellow peppers. We paid an extra $12 to “add White Anchovies”. Considering we only got three anchovies on the plate ($1.50 each), this decision was not worth the price.
Dessert is surprisingly essential. I was delighted at their version of the Australian fetish for Neapolitan ice cream. A play on the Peter’s strawberry, chocolate, vanilla classic arrives as Continental’s ‘Neapoli-tin’ self-canned chocolate-orange, cinnamon and vanilla triple threat ($10). It’s so smooth and impresses me even more with the serious talent these guys have down in the kitchen. Equally, the panna cotta has a top layer of lemon, thyme and salted honey butterscotch ($16) as professionally made as its predecessor.
The main difference between the Newtown and CBD venue, with respect to the menu, is the addition of house-made pasta. And what a significant addition it is. Continental transforms in my mind from a deli diner to a serious feed situation. I disliked the bucatini ($28) of charred kale and macadamia pistou (which is nut-free pesto) and reggiano (Parmesan cheese) because the kale was too burnt. It really needed some lemon or something fresh and not oily. On the other hand, my experience of two other pasta dishes was so good that I still remember those dishes. Rigatoni, sausage, broccolini, cuttlefish & bottarga ($30) blew me away. It had an awesome kick to it, packed with flavour from the sausage and ideally lightened by the broccolini. They don’t use normal flour in the squid ink rigatoni, because it’s got a richer flavour (suggestive of spelt/wholemeal/buckwheat flour). Best of all: they pay their diners the respect of providing a little bowl of cheese and a bottle of chilli oil to add to taste. Recently, they’ve started serving pasta at the Newtown venue too. I had a rigatini and beef short rib ragu ($30) which has such aged cheese sprinkles and soft, tasty (not fatty) beef that I will be dreaming about that dish for a while.
Continental is in my Sydney top 20, because they really hit the most important mark: flavour.
Order next time: three cheese toastie, meatball and parmigiano; French dip
Visit dates: (CBD venue) twice in November 2018, (Newtown venue) once in April 2018, and once each in April and May 2019