Late in 2014, Piero Pignatti Morano decided to experiment at his Marrickville cafe, Two Chaps. With chef Kim Douglas in the kitchen, Two Chaps opened for dinner for the first time. “We decided to do 10 dinners across 10 nights making fresh pasta,” says Morano. “The idea was just to do it and see if people would come.”
We did. And we still remember it. Tagliatelle with smoked mushrooms, fennel seeds, crouton chips and Taleggio; cannelloni-like pasta rolls jammed with soft pumpkin and buffalo ricotta, topped with a thick walnut sauce; miniature gnocchi with fresh ricotta, chilli and smoked cherry tomatoes. Simple, fresh, handmade pasta done spectacularly well.
We weren’t the only ones who loved it. Almost all 10 nights sold out, which came as a shock to Douglas, who says they were unprepared for instant success. “It was just me, Piero and one floor staffer,” he says. “We made the food, served all the tables, and did all the dishes at the end of the night.”.
But we don’t love Two Chaps simply because it makes fresh pasta. It’s how it’s presented, too. Unlike almost every other new restaurant in Sydney, the Two Chaps menu isn’t concerned with meat: all dishes are vegetarian, which allows the pasta to shine.
“You are enjoying the pasta for what it is, without it being coated in something salty and cheap,” says Morano.
Recently Two Chaps has served gnocchi sardi with Romanesco broccoli, saffron cream, hazelnuts and stinging nettle. Other weeks it might use South American zucchini, horseradish tips, or oddly shaped heirloom pumpkins. For all its pasta prowess, we love how the availability of quality produce dictates the Two Chaps menu. “We follow the seasons really closely,” says Morano. “What’s growing right now? What's good this week?”.
No meat on the Two Chaps menu also gives Douglas and Morano more creative freedom for experimentation. “We can buy more expensive and interesting veggies that other places can't work with because they're focused on meat,” Douglas says.
It’s important to understand the huge difference between the vegetables Douglas and Morano use compared with the standard supermarket range. “It might be hard to conceive of a vegetarian menu that tastes good,” says Morano. “You might think, 'This guy is just going to dress up my carrots. Why should I pay $25 dollars for it?' Well, actually, these carrots cost more than your minute steak. Perceptions are crazy.”
That’s another reason we love Two Chaps: its confidence in offering quality produce. There’s no gaudy green sign out front, there’s no obvious vegetarian labels, and none of the pastas are lumped with tofu or absurd amounts of cheese in an attempt to disguise the absence of meat. None of the tropes of vegetarian restaurants and vegetarianism apply. “It would be good to get to the point where it's just good food and nobody cares if it's vegetarian or not,” says Douglas. “It shouldn't have to be a big label. You come because the food is good. That's it.”