Ask Laura and Max Sharrad about the dishes they’re plating up at their new restaurant, Fugazzi, and you’ll hear about their honeymoon in Italy, one of the earliest dishes they ever made together, Laura’s favourite pasta and Max’s favourite dessert. This menu, it’s personal.
Where Nido, their Hyde Park pasta and aperitivo bar, is inspired by the food they grew up eating, Fugazzi, which opens on Leigh Street this weekend, is “a bit more of a flex” – “a bit more modern, a bit more sophisticated”, says Laura – and draws on the couple’s more recent history, including their travels through Italy.
One such dish is the “Roman vegemite” finger, a holy trinity of anchovy, whipped butter and lemon on toast that attendees at Leigh Street Wine Room’s Nido takeover earlier this year will remember fondly.
“Max and I were on our honeymoon in Rome two and a half years ago … every time we go to Italy we go to Rome solely for these three restaurants we’ll dine at: Bonci Pizzarium, Roscioli and Litro,” says Laura. “And we had something like that [at Litro] and we both looked at each other and thought, ‘Holy shit that tastes like vegemite.’ It’s basically three things: anchovy, butter, lemon. For us it’s all the flavours of vegemite on toast.”
Other snacks include golden potato cakes served with salmon roe, crème fraiche and chives (a play on fish and chips, or a spin on a New York bagel, depending on whether you ask Laura or Max), plus raw tuna with smoked mayo and chives on a thin crisp, and Nido’s famous pillowy fried gnocco fritto with whipped ricotta, honey, black pepper and sea salt.
Roman influences are also found on the pizza menu, which stars crisp, focaccia-like woodfired pizza crowned with toppings such as fennel sopressa, San Marzano tomatoes, Kangaroo Island honey, fried shallots and stracciatella; and confit garlic, smoked eggplant, San Marzano, fermented chilli and pecorino. There’s also a “lasagne pizza” with bolognaise and a cacio e pepe sauce.
“Our favourite style of pizza is Roman-style pizza, because it’s crispy the whole way underneath – it’s not floppy,” says Laura. “And it’s normally baked into squares or rectangles, so everyone gets corners and crust – all the good bits.”
“I hate the fact that when you eat a Napoletano style pizza it’s sloppy in the middle,” adds Max. “I want my pizza to hold its own weight.”
“There’s never enough toppings on a Napoletano-style pizza,” continues Laura. “Because it can’t handle it. This is the best of all worlds. You get crispy, you get crust, you get all the toppings.”
Elsewhere, the menu draws on northern Italian cuisine, including a comforting potato-filled ravioli with pork ragu. (“It’s like a really buttery mashed potato … it’s almost like a shepherd’s pie,” says Max. “It’s punter friendly … It’s hearty… you wouldn’t get the potato ravioli followed by the lasagne pizza.”) And a soon-to-be signature pasta – literally – of Spencer Gulf prawns, roasted red peppers and discs of corzetti pasta stamped with Fugazzi branding.
“It’s a bit of him, a bit of me, his family, our travels,” says Laura of the menu. While the couple shares Italian heritage (Laura from Tuscany, Veneto and Sicily in the country’s south, Max from Friuli-Venezia Giulia, the north-eastern pocket of Italy bordering Slovenia and Austria) inspiration comes from all over the country. “There’s shit from everywhere,” says Max. “I wouldn’t say anything’s traditional.”
Another pasta dish comes tossed with blue swimmer crab and salmon roe (“It’s solely on the menu because my favourite pasta in the world is crab pasta with chilli, garlic, lemon and parsley,” says Laura). And you can add a bump of caviar for a very extra lunchtime treat.
The design by Studio Gram (whose handiwork can be seen in most of co-owner Simon Kardachi's venues) similarly blends the comfortable and familiar with luxe touches: the former site of Leigh Street stalwart Rigoni’s has been revamped with intimate booths, timber and brass accents, and a striking marble bar (where diners with only a little time or appetite can perch with a slice of pizza or a “baby serve” of pasta you can hold in one hand).
The result is a lavish spin on the storied Italian institutions found throughout New York City. (“The mood board had pictures of Bill Clinton eating in an old-school Italian New York diner,” says Laura). So, too, the restaurant’s name is taken from the slang word “fugazi” (meaning fake or phoney), which originated in New York’s Italian community.
In the kitchen, there’s a dry-ageing fridge (for grass-fed Angus sirloin and Angus Scotch fillet served with Marsala and roasted bone jus, or Flat Iron steak frites with Italian-style bearnaise) and a hearth (where the aforementioned cuts of meat, plus whole Murray cod, will be cooked over red gum).
A cheese fridge in the dining room will hold local and international cheeses (the latter has been held up by the blocking of the Suez Canal but will eventually include rare or hard-to-find Italian, French, Swiss and Slovenian imports).
For sweet desserts, there’s a yoghurt sorbet with Davidson plum jam, KI honey and “bubblegum oil” that riffs on a dish the couple created at an early pop-up kitchen of theirs. “That’s a take on one of the first desserts Loz and I ever did, when we first left Orana,” Max recalls, as Laura gets teary. “I always get emotional about this,” she says.
“It’s also a version of the dessert Loz did on her first episode of Masterchef last year,” Max continues. “So it’s close to the heart.”
“It’s creamy, fresh, savoury, palate-cleansing,” says Laura. “It’s what you want after a really rich Italian meal.”
Affogato lovers can rest easy. “It’s the most requested dessert in any restaurant I’ve ever worked at,” says Max. And now he’s finally making one. This version takes things up a notch with semi freddo with a chocolate ganache centre and a caramelised chocolate coating. “If you want light and refreshing you go number one, if you want decadence and like, ‘Give me ravs followed by lasagne pizza followed by all the chocolate in the world’, you get this.”
Max says he’s also working on a Granny Smith tarte tatin to share between four, “because that’s my favourite dessert in the world”.
As for the drinks, expect an extensive list of local and international drops, the latter leaning on Italian and French producers, to appeal to imbibers of all stripes – including “a big fat shiraz to go with your big steak”, says Laura.
“Then there’s your fairy dust,” says Max, “which is wines that are completely left-of-centre, like a 2010 ribolla gialla from Friuli, which is skin contact for nine months and aged in oak for four years and in bottle for seven years before they even release it. So there’s all sorts of stuff.”
To finish? A drinks trolley – which will be brought around to each table after dinner – will be stocked with amaros, digestivos and whiskies.
Fugazzi Bar & Dining Room opens on Saturday May 1 at 27 Leigh Street, Adelaide.