“This is a restaurant for everybody,” Duncan Welgemoed says of new Italian bistro Aces Pizza & Liquor. “It’s an Italian family restaurant like you had in the ’70s and ’80s, and then everyone either got too posh or too serious.”
The former sports bar and bistro – which used to be called Aces Bar & Bistro – has been run by Enzo Fantasia since 1993. Now under the stewardship of his son Andrew Fantasia (who also runs the wine label Hustle & Vine), the Market Plaza site has received a makeover and a menu overhaul courtesy of Welgemoed, who’s come on board as executive chef.
The menu features Italian and American-Italian classics, with a few curveballs thrown in. All pastas and pizzas are $18; salads are $16; hero sandwiches are $13. This is affordable dining using produce from the Central Market, which is just a few metres away.
“We’re not skimping by using cheap ingredients and then serving you a giant portion of pasta,” Welgemoed says. “It’s the best ingredients, hearty serves, but still dignified.”
The new look brings the bones of the 26-year-old venue back to life – it’s got a classic 1950s New York bistro feel with some bonus ’80s flair, thanks to neon touches complementing the booth seating, black and white pictures of the Fantasia family on the walls and Italian-flag-coloured pizza boxes. But, until a few months ago, it was a bistro in need of a bit of love. A renovation was due, so the Fantasias decided to reinvigorate with the help of James Hillier (Golden Boy, Africola) and Welgemoed.
Enzo opened the original Aces, a sports-themed bar and gaming venue, in 1993. (Tennis player Darren Cahill was a partner, hence the name.) It was one of many successful venues he operated in the ’90s, including Rundle Street’s Caffe Buongiorno and the original Café Bravo on The Parade.
“Dad was really one of the founders of the whole [Adelaide] cafe era in the ’90s,” says Andrew.
For the last 18 months, the Fantasias have been planning for Andrew to take charge and reimagine the venue. The bistro closed for renovations in September, re-opening over the weekend as Aces Pizza & Liquor.
“Andrew had this vision, really,” Enzo says of the new venue. “When we heard that James [Hillier] could be interested, I said, ‘Well, let’s grab him in, he’s got a pretty good portfolio’.”
Josh Lansley will soon join as head chef, but Welgemoed will continue to consult. The South African might seem an unlikely choice to oversee an Italian menu, but Italian food is the “number one” cuisine he cooks at home.
“We’re not trying to reinvent the wheel,” Welgemoed says. “We’re just trying to serve really good family-style Italian food that we all want and can never get.”
This includes 10-inch pizzas, which are divided into two categories: Old School (including a marinara dubbed Legalize Marinara) and New School (including the spicy Napoli Dynamite, the ham-and-pineapple Tropic Thunder and the self-explanatory Back to the Funghi).
The movie puns were left off the pasta menu, which features cavatelli ragu bolognaise; spaghetti nerano; Mario Carbone’s spicy rigatoni; and capellini “Golden Century” with prawns in garlic butter, which is inspired by the famous Golden Century dish – snow crab with garlic butter on egg noodles – served up in Sydney.
“It’s the best garlic-prawn pasta you’ll ever have in your life,” says Welgemoed.
Aces Pizza & Liquor
Central Market Plaza, 62-72 Gouger Street, Adelaide
(08) 8231 6797
Mon to Wed 7.30am–7pm
Thu to Fri 7.30am–late