"It's actually quite hard to eat steak for lunch and dinner for nine days straight," says James Bradey, co-owner of new Sydney restaurant Bistecca. He's talking about his fact-finding mission through Tuscany which, despite its tough moments, came in handy when opening the Italian steakhouse, bar and wine shop, his latest venue with business partner Warren Burns. As the name suggests Bistecca's focus is on one Italian cut of meat: bistecca alla Fiorentina.
"Bistecca alla Fiorentina is the traditional Tuscan T-bone steak, sourced from the local cattle called Chianina, cut three fingers thick and cooked to blue – or rare – over a charcoal fire," says Bradey.
He and Burns (who also own Sydney bars Grandma's and The Wild Rover) fell for the passion and tradition surrounding the dish after holidaying in Italy many years ago. After deciding to open Bistecca, the pair took a crash course in the cut by eating their way across Italy. At Osteria Acquacheta in Montepulciano, they witnessed the owner butcher a side of cattle as he shouted profanities, while at Buca Lapi in Florence, proceedings were more mild-mannered.
"The most special moment came at the end of the meal when we ended up in the kitchen with the chef and the owner, glass of wine in hand, discussing the finer points of seasoning," Bradey says. "When to add salt, how much to add, and whether to cook with olive or vine branches on the fire."
They also dropped into the legendary Harry's Bar in Venice. "The service here really stood out," says Bradey. "They were rude, abrupt and abrasive but immaculate." He recounts the experience of ordering a Martini. As he began to specify how he takes his drink, he was cut off: "You'll get them cold, dry and strong!" Bradey and Burns walked away as fans.
"They were arrogant because for the past several decades they've perfected their craft," he says.
At their own restaurant, the pair will source Black Angus beef from the Riverina region of New South Wales, with every steak cut to order. After being cooked medium-rare – the perfect temperature to break down the marbling, according to Bradey – the steak is rested, carved and then reassembled on the plate. The final touch is a little salt and olive oil.
As for the rest of the menu, there are bar snacks such as anchovies on toast or pecorino with truffle honey, as well as small dishes to share, including baccalà mantecato. If you're still there in the wee hours (the bar trades until 2am), you can try the lampredotto (a traditional Florentine sandwich of tripe) or opt for something more familiar: the porchetta, say, or a meatball panino.
Of course, there are classic Italian cocktails plus more than 30 types of amari, and diners can walk into the wine shop and choose from 300 Italian drops to accompany their steak. Even vegetarians are catered for (with cannelloni or sweet potato gnocchi), and so is your sweet tooth.
"For dessert, who can go past tiramisù?" says Bradey.
Bistecca, 4 Bridge St (access via Dalley St), Sydney, NSW, (02) 8067 0450, bistecca.com.au. Mon-Sat, 4pm-2am.