Last August, Andrea Contin and his wife, Valentina Vigni, visited Sardinia. The trip was partly a homecoming spent catching up with Contin’s relatives (he was born on the island), and part research trip. They left with a vision for their new restaurant and 15 handmade mamuthones – traditional wooden mask that are worn in a traditional carnival in the small town of Mamoiada that dates back 2000 years.
Those same masks now hang at the duo’s Sardinian woodfire restaurant, Pilloni, which opened in early February. It’s their second venue after La Lupa, a Roman-style restaurant in west end that opened in 2017.
According to Contin, charcoal cooking is incredibly common in Sardinia. Across the island, you’ll often find fresh produce – like lamb, pig and lobster – sitting over open fires.
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“In Australia, we have lots of great seafood and free-range produce from farms, and it’s the same in Sardinia,” Contin tells Broadsheet. “For us, we wanted to source nice produce and treat it very simply, without adding too much technique.”
The menu highlights produce like Tasmanian lobster, lamb neck and kingfish, all cooked over the woodfired grill and served without a lot of fuss. The lobster, for example, comes with tomato, red onion, lemon and parsley. Another menu highlight is the porceddu, a quartered and spit-roasted suckling pig with ultra-crisp crackling. It serves four people, and the team needs 24 hours’ notice to prepare it.
You’ll also find regional pastas: culurgiones (filled with potato, pecorino and mint) with tomato sauce; spaghetti with clams and bottarga (dried mullet row); and malloreddus (small, gnocchi-shaped shells) with lamb-shoulder ragu and pecorino.
Alkot Studio and Tonic Projects are behind the design and fit-out. (Their work on Pilloni has been shortlisted for an Australian Interior Design Award.) It features a Sardinian marble bar, a dining room with views of the kitchen, a curtained terrace with neutral tiled floors, and a private wine room. As well as the masks, mementos like paintings and cork bowls from the couple’s Sardinan holiday decorate the space.
Former Essa sommelier Phil Poussart helped put together the wine list, which features drops from around the Mediterranean, and natural wines from Contin’s wine distribution business, Sat Artisan Wines. And, of course, there are a few Sardinian varietals like vermentino and the harder-to-find cannonau and granazza.
“The wine list focuses on Sardinian wine as much as we can, but there’s not many [available] in Australia,” Contin tells Broadsheet. “We’re about to import a container of Sardinian wines to provide a bit more variety.”
166 Hardgrave Road, West End
Wed to Fri 5pm–10pm
Sat to Sun 12pm–2.30pm, 5pm–10pm