“Best Italian in town!” an Instagram story declares atop a photo of an artfully presented lemon sorbet. It’s from a diner attending Wednesday’s launch of Bianca, the new eatery from celebrated restaurateurs Ben Williamson, Tyron Simon, Bianca Marchi and Frank Li.
The best Italian in town. It’s a big call. There’s a lot of very good Italian in Brisbane. And it comes in all shapes and sizes and price points.
There’s the majestic Otto on the river at South Bank and Enoteca in Woolloongabba’s heritage-listed Moreton Rubber Works building. There are fast-paced favourites such as Beccofino, its brick-lined younger brother Julius, and CBD comeback kid Coppa Spuntino. There are local heroes Mosconi and Pizzeria Violetta and Little G and La Lupa. There are new arrivals Eterna, Elementi and La Costa, artful variations on the form such as Bar Alto, and heavyweight classics such as Tartufo. And then there are those that strip it back, be it family friendly haunts like Popolo, Salt Meats Cheese and Italian Street Kitchen, or classy pasta joints Ripiena, Siffredi’s and Pasta Club.
TLDR: Brisbane doesn’t lack for great Italian food. You suspect, though, Williamson, Simon and co would never claim to do the best Italian in town. What you can count on is them doing something different.
Bianca is different. Conceived during Covid-19, it’s perhaps best not to think of it in terms of Brisbane’s Italian scene but in the context of the group’s other restaurants, which include Agnes, Honto and Same Same. Agnes, its most recent opening, is an exceptional dining experience – wonderful woodfired food served by smiling-assassin floor staff – but it feels like a serious restaurant. Bianca, with its playful pasta characters, curly graphics and monogrammed plates, is something entirely different.
“We just said, ‘What’s the Italian that we like? What is it that we like about dining, in general?’” Simon says. “We’ve always focused on the food but also, how’s the lighting? How’s the music? … In our James Street ecosystem, you might have Mosconi, which is a brilliant Italian restaurant. But we’re trying to do something different to that. We’ve probably tried to blend the casualness of Same Same with the refinement of Agnes.
“We’ve tried to have fun with it, with the branding and all the little pasta characters that we’ve created.”
In terms of the physical space, Bianca feels similar to near neighbour Same Same, with in-demand architects Richards & Spence once again handling the design. Bianca mimics its sister venue’s long dining room, open-air front bar and upstairs private dining room, but goes giddy with the details. The tiled treatment of Los, Same Same’s upstairs bar, has been extended to the entirety of Bianca, from the floors to the walls to the countertops. The whole venue is bathed in a peachy glow, its bright orange branding inspired by the distinctive acrylic-handled Sabre Paris cutlery.
“If you believe in a simple thing, when you run with it everywhere it really becomes effective,” Simon says. “The peach in the restaurant has this really nice, almost Mediterranean glow. Everyone looks like they’ve been in the sun on the Italian coast.”
For food, Williamson has designed a straightforward menu of snacks, entrees, seven house-made pasta dishes and a clutch of main courses. The pastas are intended to rotate, although always on the menu will be a paccheri pomodoro with stracciatella, and a pork-and-fennel lasagne made popular by Agnes’s pop-up bakery. The kitchen also features a separate antipasti section that’s serving up plates of buffalo mozzarella, pickled sardines, mortadella, pork and fennel salami, and marinated mushrooms. Finally, there’s that Instagrammable dessert list, which is backed by the restaurant’s knockout punch – an Italian-made Carpigiani soft-serve gelato machine.
For drinks, group sommelier Rani Parish and Bianca sommelier Millie Gosney have collaborated on a 350-bottle wine list that focuses on Italian wines and local vino made in an Italian style. There’s also a lengthy back bar of spirits imported from the peninsula that’s helping fuel an Inglourious Basterds-themed cocktail list that features names such as Si … Er Correcto, Gorlami, and the Hugo Stig-Spritz.
“We don’t want to be that classic place,” Williamson told Broadsheet in the lead-up to Bianca’s opening. “There are already plenty of people doing that in Brisbane, and doing it really well, and we don’t want to compete with them. We don’t want to be super high-end, either.
“[Bianca] can be a special occasion venue to somebody that doesn’t spend very much on going out, and it’s also a great everyday venue for people that are used to going and spending a lot at expensive places.”
So it maybe doesn’t really matter if this is the best Italian in town. What Bianca is, is a loving ode to homely Mediterranean cuisine in an era that’s become defined by comfort food.
It’s also one of the biggest openings of the year. Good luck getting a seat.
Shop Am5 Ada Lane, 46 James Street, Fortitude Valley
(07) 3063 7679
Mon to Thu 5.30pm–10pm
Fri to Sun 12pm–3pm, 5.30pm–10pm