Village People Hawker Food Hall is no more. The Southeast Asian-inspired dining hall has swapped its aromas of lemongrass and tamarind for those of 72-hour slow-proved pizza. In its place a new diner, called Cappo Sociale, opens tonight.

This redo of the first floor at 127 Brunswick Street is the first step in a larger rebrand of the massive old pub, which was originally known as the Old Colonial Inn but is now called Hotel Fitzroy. Ground-floor izakaya Ichi Ni Nana, will stick around, as will the existing rooftop bar and basement karaoke bar, but the mezzanine will reopen later this year as Hotel Fitzroy Public Bar.

For owners Paul Adamo and Vince Sofo, who’ve been working together since 1994, Cappo Sociale is a natural next step.

“That’s our heritage,” Sofo says. “We’re Italian. People have looked at us a bit funny because we’ve owned Japanese restaurants Ichi Ni and Ichi Ichi Ku, so it’s sort of come home now. It’s a bit of a homecoming.”

In 2018 a group of 20 staff members accused Adamo and Sofo’s Ichi Group, which operates Hotel Fitzroy, of underpayment. This led the company to pay back an estimated $150,000. “[Those allegations] were dealt with in 2018,” an Ichi Group spokesperson says. “We consider the matter closed.”

At Cappo Sociale, “the philosophy of the whole menu [is] to keep it light”, says chef Maurizio Esposito, formerly of Cecconi’s and Il Bacaro. The same goes for the ambience and decor. “It’s not about the formal dining experience. I’ve always had the opinion that casual food doesn’t mean it’s not good food. It means you know the rules before you can break them.”

His lengthy menu stretches from salumi to dessert, using as many Australian ingredients as possible. A five-course or six-course dinner is a possibility, if you’re that way inclined. Esposito has a plot at the Collingwood Children’s Farm, from which tomatoes, zucchinis, cucumbers and other seasonal veggies are pulled. Small personal flourishes are plentiful, such as beetroot “ketchup” on a beef carpaccio, and prosecco-mignonette granita on Sydney rock oysters.

If you’re just here for a classic, well-executed pasta, there’s pappardelle ragu made with Wagyu shin, red wine, tomato and a bright burst of lemon. Or perhaps the linguine with seared cuttlefish, wild nettle, chilli, garlic and a crumble of dried-squid ink (“in the southern Italian way of eating pasta, [it’s] the poor man’s parmesan”, Esposito says).

The star of the Cappo show, though, is the pizza dough, which Venetian pizzaiolo Ivan Rizzo proves for 72 hours and fires in a Moretti Forni double-decker electric oven. He uses Italian flour – an ingredient where Esposito and his team reckon the Australian version isn’t quite on the same level.

“We make the dough so it’s digestible,” Esposito says, coming back to that concept of lightness. “In Italy you eat pizza like you eat a bread roll or a pie in Australia – it’s an everyday event. It’s not meant to be a dining experience. We’ve gone for a very slow proof which gives it great aeration, keeps it lovely and light, and gives it a lovely texture. Sometimes you can smash two or three pizzas in a day.”

Expect classic, simple toppings that complement the dough rather than sideline it, such as buffalo mozzarella and basil on a passata base, or the Calabria, with mild casalinga salami and a touch of ’nduja. Rizzo also bakes sourdough and focaccia in-house.

For those dropping by for a quick drink and snack, the menu’s salumi, crudo and antipasti sections are the way to go. Smallgoods such as bresaola and capocollo are sourced from Laverton’s Puopolo Salumi, plus there are imports such as San Daniele prosciutto. And there’s a sizeable selection of original cocktails and mainly Italian wines, focused on light, crisp varieties such as fiano, vermentino and pinot gris.

The design by Emma Tulloch Architects is airy and clean. The main bar is punctuated by tall, semi-circular booths, ideal for group privacy, while the main dining room houses an open kitchen. The former ballroom overlooks Brunswick Street and still has its original, ornate 4.4-metre-high ceilings. There’s also a private dining room with space for 20 and a terrace balcony for those warmer nights.

The next stage of the Hotel Fitzroy roll-out – the mezzanine public bar – is slated for the second half of 2021. Food will be available at the bar from both Cappo Sociale and Ichi Ni Nana (on an abbreviated menu), and there’ll be direct entry from Brunswick Street.

Cappo Sociale
127 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy

Hours:
Mon to Sun 5pm–late

capposociale.com.au