David Ruggiero won’t stop, can’t stop. At the start of the year the chef and restaurateur opened La Pinsa, his casual Kennedy Terrace eatery dedicated to Roman flatbread.
Now he and wife Keit are deepening their Paddington roots by opening a second Italian restaurant, Romantica Ristorante Pizzeria. Ruggiero says he decided to open a second restaurant in the area because he loves the local community.
"It was getting quite boring with lots of empty shops [in Paddington],” he says. "We realised the people were actually waiting for something different."
One of those empty shops was 233 Given Terrace, the former premises of popular but short-lived chicken joint, Winner Winner. Winner Winner was forced to close suddenly in September 2017 after termite nests were found in the building.
The issue has since been resolved; Ruggiero had the space checked over three times before taking on the lease. “I couldn’t find any problems to fix,” he says.
It’s good to have it back. An ancient Queenslander shop a block up the hill from the Paddington Tavern, the space is all polished wooden floors and white walls. A tiled bar runs down one side of the venue, and hanging planters add a nice splash of green.
Ruggiero says Romantica Ristorante is a more “complete restaurant”. "La Pinsa was not enough for me,” he says. “This is a little bit more fusion.”
The food is predominantly Italian, but with a touch of Estonian flair. Ruggiero says it's a tribute to Keit, who is from the Eastern European country.
“Their cuisine is very rich, similar to Rome, where I grew up,” he says. “It's healthy, hearty, authentic and traditional.”
The extensive menu features antipasti, pasta and, of course, pizza. The hero of the venue is at the rear of the restaurant: an Alfa Pro Opera woodfired oven. It took three months to arrive from Italy but weighs just 400 kilograms (that compares, say, to the popular Stefano Ferrara ovens you see around town, which often weigh up to three-and-a-half tonnes).
Ruggiero uses oak and cherry wood to cook his pizzas, which gives them a "completely different flavour". The kitchen is using a pure wheat-flour dough that takes at least two days to rise, meaning everything needs to be prepared in advance. But that doesn't faze the chef of 23 years, who used to head the kitchen at the Rome Hilton.
Ruggiero plans to head up Romantica Ristorante Pizzeria while it's in its infancy, with staff from La Pinsa working across both venues.
Romantica Ristorante Pizzeria
233 Given Terrace, Paddington
(07) 3705 3082
Tue & Wed 5.30pm–9.30pm
Thu to Sat 12pm–10pm