Food News

Coming soon: Nik Hill’s “British Italian” pop-up at Sydney’s The Strand

The former Old Fitz chef is preparing to captain a line-up of British classics, Florentine steaks, and weekly eel specials.
Chef Nik Hill sitting at a round table, with a beer in hand, with a red wall in the background.

Nik Hill, former head chef of The Old Fitzroy Hotel, Sydney.

Benito Martin (main)

It’s lunch service at La Rosa, a polished Roman osteria in Sydney’s heritage-listed Strand arcade, and chef Nik Hill is straining to be heard over the restaurant’s smooth jazz piano soundtrack. The ol’ tinkling of the ivories is “very The Strand,” he chuckles, in reference to the storied Victorian building.

It’s been five weeks since he left The Old Fitzroy Hotel, but the chef has already found a new, albeit temporary, gig. From October, he’ll be captaining The Milan Cricket Club, a three-month pop-up restaurant at La Rosa, alongside sous chef Abigail Amen. It’s pitched as a British-Italian steakhouse, but there’s not a squiggle of pasta in sight. “The food is far more British than Italian,” says Hill. “I do an average cacio pepe for my wife but I wouldn’t make anyone pay for it.”

The Scotch eggs are another matter. The egg-and-sausage crumbed ovals were a mainstay of Hill’s mod-classic Brit-pub menu at The Old Fitz, and they make a welcome reappearance. The side of piccalilli has been swapped out for Oxford sauce, a savoury tomato-based table sauce of dates, treacle, malt vinegar and spices. The paper doilies that graced The Old Fitz plates, however, will remain. “It’d be rude not to,” says Hill. “I didn’t throw them out, that’s for sure.”

A halved Scotch egg, with a runny yolk centre, with a bowl of yellow-coloured cauliflower pickle, on a white round plate with a thin green border, on a white table. A stainless steel butter knife lies to the left, a glass of beer on the right.

Nik Hill’s Scotch egg & piccalilli, as served at The Old Fitzroy Hotel.

(Photo: Benito Martin)

Elsewhere on the line-up: charcoal-grilled beef tongue with anchovy-brown butter, fried sage and lemon zest; a terrine of pork and duck aged in brandy; a salad of tomatoes, taramasalata and bottarga; and marmalade ice-cream with butterscotch toast. There will be a pig’s head schnitzel too – it starts as a ballotine of pig’s head flesh, ears, tongue, and pork shoulder that’s sliced, crumbed on one side, then fried in butter. “It’s not a real schnitty-schnitty, but it’s crumbed for texture, with really soft meat underneath,” says Hill.

There’s also talk of a gin and tonic cart doing a run of the dining room. “We’re going a bit posh here. It’s not like a schooner we’d pull at the Fitzroy.”

A list of four bistecca alla Fiorentina holds up the Italian steakhouse end of the bargain. Weighing in at 400 grams each, $44 buys you a lamb Barnsley double T-bone; $85 for a White Rocks veal steak with marsala sauce. “It’s not often you see a veal T-bone or a double Barnsley chop. People don’t cook that stuff as much,” says Hill. All steaks are designed to share; they are, of course, served with Yorkshire pudding.

But where are the eels? Smoketrap Eels, Hill and Michael Robinson’s side-hustle, has won favour with Sydney chefs and restaurants since launching earlier this year – the smoked long-finned fish have snaked their way onto a carbonara at Café Paci, while jars of eel pate have been spotted at Fish Butchery, LPs Quality Meats and Continental Deli. They’re conspicuously absent from the current menu, but Hill says they’ll likely make cameos as weekly specials. “We can do Christmas pudding and eel custard.” (He’s joking.)

Chef Nik HIll and Nino Zoccali, owner of La Rosa The Strand.

(Photo: Supplied)

La Rosa’s white tablecloths might seem a world apart from Hill’s pub-stomping days, but he’s gone upmarket before, having earned his fine-dining stripes at London’s The Ledbury and the now-closed Sepia with Martin Benn. The latter, in fact, was responsible for match-making Hill with Nino Zoccali, owner of La Rosa and Pendolino.

As for the name, The Milan Cricket Club is a reference to the north Italian football clubs established by British migrants in the 19th century. AC Milan, for example, was christened as the Milan Foot-Ball and Cricket Club in 1899; its Genoan counterpart still operates under its full and original name, the Genoa Cricket and Football Club.

Asked for his preferred ball-sport, Hill opts for cricket. “But I suck at both, so it doesn’t matter.” But we’re banking that his culinary skills prove superior to his fast-bowling. “The pub was great fun, but it’s nice to step out of that […] I’m really excited to just cook what we want to cook.”

The Milan Cricket Club is set to open from 1 October at La Rosa The Strand, Shop 100, Level 2, The Strand Arcade, 412-414 George St, Sydney.

Open for lunch Fri and Sat, and for dinner Thu–Sat.

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