When Renata Roberts first opened Sichuan Bang Bang in the outer suburb of Kenmore in 2012, some customers said she wasn't serving real Chinese food. “I was the first outside of Sunnybank [to offer Sichuan cuisine] ... at least in terms of our style of service, which isn’t so fast and furious,” Roberts says. “That was a real uphill battle. But, then, we managed to get rid of those people,” she laughs.
Four-and-a-half years later, and Brisbane well and truly knows Renata Roberts. Sichuan Bang Bang – built on her experience opening restaurants in China – became a roaring success, as did its sister restaurant, Pizzeria Violetta next door on Wongabel Street after it opened in 2015. So there was an air of inevitably about the announcement that both would expand towards the city, into Paddington. “It took me 11 months to find this place,” Roberts says. “I wanted something inner city.”
On Monday night, the new restaurants finally opened, taking over the old Crust Pizza digs in a heritage-listed shopfront on Given Terrace. But where the Kenmore restaurants are two distinct identities, the Paddington versions are conjoined. An open area in front of Violetta’s pizza oven squeezes into the long dining room of Bang Bang. It’s a product of strict Queensland development rules rather than design (for now, you access Sichuan Bang Bang through Pizza Violetta), but the two are happy bedfellows with their shared logic of fast-paced food done well. “We try to focus on pure authenticity,” Roberts says. “We don’t cut any corners with traditional foods.”
Pizzeria Violetta’s kitchen is dominated by a 400-degree Stefano Ferarra D.O.C wood-fired oven, pumping out traditional Napoli style pizza (think margherita, diavola, prima vera) every 90 seconds. In Sichuan Bang Bang, it’s darker and more intimate, but no less hectic. Former Masterchef China winner Kieran Zou dishes up crispy duck with Sichuan chilli sauce and Shanghainese pork spare ribs to diners watched over from above by a life-sized dragon, courtesy of Melbourne artist Miss Sai Wai Foo.
On weekends, Pizza Violetta will offer benzina breakfasts, based around wood-fired panuozzo, a light bread the chefs stuff with ham and cheese; Nutella and banana; or avocado and feta, or served as part of a larger breakfast. Bang Bang will crank out two sittings for bottomless yum cha, starting next weekend.
Roberts might have had a hard time convincing Kenmore locals all those years ago, but you get the feeling she’ll have no such trouble this close to the city; the restaurants have been full all week. She hopes to tweak the venue, adding a second entrance on the Bang Bang side, and maybe a small shipping container pumping out coffees in the morning as well as late-night eats on game nights at the nearby Suncorp Stadium.
It doesn’t stop there. Plans are already in place for Sichuan Bang Bang and Pizzeria Violetta to open in Wilston and, eventually, south of the river. “I really want to build iconic restaurants that aren’t a sheet in the wind,” Roberts says. “And not just doing what everyone else does. That really bores me.”
Sichuan Bang Bang & Pizzeria Violeta
167 Given Terrace, Paddington
Pizzeria Violeta: (07) 3369 2300
Sichuan Bang Bang: (07) 3369 1311
Mon to Fri 5pm–late
Sat & Sun 7am–3pm, 5pm–late
Sichuan Bang Bang
Mon to Fri 5pm–late
Sat & Sun 11.30am and 1.30pm (yum-cha), 5pm-late