You won’t see a sign indicating that you’ve arrived at Table for 20 in Surry Hills. A printed note stuck on the door will tell you to enter through a narrow lane via the Sticky Bar. Once there, the only clue that you’ve arrived at the location is the word ‘Hope’. Through the back entrance, you pass a colourful cartoon of a seductive cat with a Martini glass. Another printed sign tells you to SMS a secret code for access into the premises. These are the pre-requisites that set the scene for your underground dining experience.
Once inside, you’re led up a set stairs in the dark. You pass the dining room where you stop briefly in front of a bar area where your BYO wine bottle is tagged with your name and kept until dinner. A few more steps and you reach the dimly-lit Sticky Bar with its bohemian décor, dark walls, a hanging chandelier and an assortment of retro couches and odd chairs.
We have assembled here for our annual pre-Christmas dinner, a tradition started a few years ago by a group of friends some of whom have known one another since primary school.
The bar has an interesting mix of drinks, with cocktails and ‘Fancy Drinks’ starting at $18. As the designated driver, I forego the exotic and sip on a glass of bubbly until we are called to dinner at 8.00pm.
Table for 20 is a concept restaurant established by Michael Fantuz in 2006. Based on guerilla dining around a communal table, he offers three courses which change daily. The food is served in large platters from which diners help themselves. At $65 per head, 10 per cent of the proceeds go to the Hope Street Mission, a charity that supports homeless people.
Bird’s Nest lighting
Table for 20 is in fact table for 40, with two long communal tables for 20 set parallel to one another. The décor is rustic with exposed brick walls, urban paintings and a feature light made of an assembly of tree branches resembling a bird’s nest. The lighting is incredibly subdued with only a few flickering candles on the tables.
Table candle Bread rolls
Michael welcomes everyone and explains that a total of $350,000 has been raised to support Hope Mission since the restaurant opened. He runs through the menu but we can barely hear him over the chatter emanating from the bar patrons upstairs.
The concept of dining with strangers is evident in the table across from us. As we are twenty in number, we occupy one half of the dining room and have a table to ourselves.
Chalkboard generic menu Live musician
In one corner, a live musician strums his guitar but his tunes are drowned by the hubbub of noisy diners and the crowd in the bar upstairs.
Home-made pasta with shaved white truffles
The first course is served on long platters and placed in the middle. The home-made pasta with pesto and truffles is a little undercooked and lukewarm in parts but the flavours are strong and there is a good balance of garlic, pesto and trufflle.
The main course arrives, sizeable pieces of lamb shanks served on a bed of grains. Under poor lighting, we cannot ascertain if it is wheat. The meat is very tender and moist, falling off the bone. This dish has robust flavours and makes a hearty and satisfying course accompanied with roast potatoes and pumpkin and a vinaigrette salad. Unfortunately, two of us find long sharp bones among the meat in our shanks.
Roast vegetables Vinaigrette salad
Partway through our main course, the live music from the bar upstairs cuts through the dining ambience. The noise levels make it incredibly difficult to converse with the person next to you, let alone the person sitting opposite.
When dessert is served, there are many smiles around the table. The slab of tiramisu with strawberries is rich, moist with a good balance of flavours that begs for an encore.
After the plates are cleared, the waiters retreat and guests continue to mingle. Coffee or tea are not offered, even at an additional cost, neither is their signature Limoncello.
Table for 20 is an interesting concept in dining. The underground setting, complete with mysterious access through the back lane coupled with the notion of sharing honest food and conversation with strangers is a winning formula. The décor adds to the allure though it is a little too dark in the dining room if you like to see what you’re eating. The waiters in tight rolled sleeve shirts, thin ties, long skinny shorts and urbane looks complement the setting and ambience.
However, the noise levels are prohibitive and not conducive to making conversations with people you know let alone with strangers as dining companions. The live music and chatter from the bar are intrusive on an otherwise enjoyable dining experience.
Paintings Bird’s nest lighting
At Table for 20, you can be treated to an Italian-themed 3 course dinner for $65 per person with BYO wine. No corkage is charged. With a percentage of the price going to Hope Street Mission charity, it was a pertinent choice for our group’s annual pre-Christmas dinner.
Table For 20
182 Campbell St
Surry Hills, 2010
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