Project 49 is a deli, wine bar and restaurant by Rocco Esposito and his wife, Lisa Pidutti. The couple are based in Beechworth where they run a small cafe – also called Project 49 – and make organic chardonnay under the same name. Forty-nine is the street number of their farm.
“We want to bring the country – Beechworth in particular – to the city,” says Pidutti.
A textile piece in various shades of pink – a reference to a country sunset – hangs from the ceiling, and the room is filled with tables and chairs in light wood. Pidutti says they deliberately chose an urban-looking site – that is, with lots of concrete – to reinforce the connection between country and city. It’s warm but contemporary, with floor-to-ceiling windows lining the frontage.
The new outpost is an ambitious undertaking (the total capacity across Project 49’s three spaces is around 350), but they know what they’re doing. Originally from Melbourne, Esposito and Pidutti moved to Beechworth 12 years ago and bought an old pub. Wardens Food and Wine became one of the best regional restaurants in Victoria within six months of opening.
They sold it after they had their kids. Esposito has spent the past five years at Vue de Monde. Pidutti studied organic farming.
“Project 49 is everything we believe in,” says Pidutti. “Everything that we grow on our farm, we want to sell here. Everything here – the colours, the plants – is inspired by our farm.”
The deli opened in early December. It functions as a general store selling pantry goods such as tinned fish; olive oils; jams; biscuits and slices; and perishables such as meat and cheese. It’s also a cafe, open daily for breakfast and lunch. The menu is country Victoria with an Italian streak – think True Blue honey panna cotta with vin cotto for breakfast; and panzanella salad (bread and tomato salad) made with Beechworth tomatoes for lunch.
The attached wine bar and restaurant are still a few weeks from opening. The wine bar will be a place to drink, as well as buy a bottle, with a focus on north-eastern Victorian wines. Esposito has already teed up a few tastings, and will host winemakers Giaconda (from Beechworth) and Pizzini (from Whitfield) in coming months.
Chef Tim Newitt, who apprenticed at Wardens Food and Wine, is heading up the restaurant kitchen. While more refined than the deli, it will still be Italian-leaning and focus on north-eastern Victorian produce.
“We want to concentrate on the same producers, the same philosophy, that we have [in Beechworth],” says Esposito. “It’s about having a lifestyle on the shelves, rather than just stock.”
107 Cambridge Street, Collingwood