It seems that no matter where in Sydney you look at the moment, there’s a new Italian restaurant. There’s Alberto's Lounge dishing up tripe in Surry Hills, garlic bread we can’t stop thinking about at Don Peppino’s in Paddington and truly excellent pizza masquerading as “trash food” at Mary’s Pizzeria. There’s an Italian takeover happening – and we like it.
Good Italian isn’t hard to find in Sydney – it’s been an Australian staple for generations. But it’s always worth throwing a new restaurant into the mix, so here are some of the best newbies we’ve found lately.
First the Swillhouse Group conquered French at Restaurant Hubert, and now it’s nailed the Italian brief at Alberto's Lounge. Head chef Dan Pepperell has returned to cook the truly exciting spins on Italian cuisine he became known for during his time as the founding chef at 10 William Street. This includes a delicious and unexpected spin on trippa alla Romana (tripe, Roman-style) – hint: it tastes more Indian than Italian – cacio e pepe gnocchi that’s creamy and cloud-like, and a cotoletta (a veal breaded cutlet) better than most of the city’s schnitzels. Beyond the food, the space is beautiful, with eclectic and super-interesting artwork, and the vibe is energetic and fun. Pepperell apparently has around 80 recipes up his (clearly very long) sleeve, so we can’t wait to see what he does next.
Another 10 William Street alumnus also continues to do his bit for the local Italian dining scene. This time it’s Mike Eggert, who most recently brought the good times to Mr Liquor's Dirty Italian Disco and prior to that, Pinbone. At Totti’s he’s joined by Khan Danis, former executive chef at now-closed Rockpool, who is regarded as a woodfire oven expert. Speaking of woodfired ovens, the one in the dining room is where some of the best restaurant-made bread is being pumped out; it’s somehow both puffy and dense. Order it with an assortment of sides including house-made chicken-liver parfait, marinated peppers and melon. There’s also a solid selection of pasta dishes and a booze-laden tiramisu, plus meats such as salami and ‘nudja made in-house.
Caffe Bartolo opened in the space formerly occupied by Bill’s on Crown Street last November. It had big shoes to fill, but this homey Italian bistro has done its predecessor proud. Owner Jared Merlino has had a hand in some of Sydney’s best-loved bars, including Kittyhawk and Lobo Plantation, and his restaurant-cum-bar Big Poppa’s has gathered a loyal following of pasta lovers and cheese fiends. At Caffe Bartolo he’s proven he’s not just a three-trick pony by taking influences from his grandmother’s Italian cooking and turning them into a menu that includes pan-roasted snapper with mussels fregola and clams, potato gnocchi with prawns and zucchini flowers and melon served with prosciutto. Teofilo Nobrega, of lauded Potts Point Fratelli Paradiso fame, is the head chef. And, in true Italian style, Caffe Bartolo is open from 7am right the way through to midnight.
It’s the home of the garlic bread Broadsheet editor Sarah Norris can’t stop thinking about – a semi-sourdough roll with garlic caramelised in butter and piped into its centre. Sure, it’s not traditional Italian, but who cares. This 12-month pop-up by the Full Circle team (Alfio’s, Wilmer) is in a former nightclub and is about fun times as much as it’s about delicious times. It has a short menu that changes weekly but will always include a few bowls of pasta and a selection of antipasti. In keeping with the fun theme, house wines are pumped directly from a keg; but if you prefer your wine from a bottle, you can get that too, with a focus on Italian and natural drops. Plus how about that neon-light staircase.
At Mary’s Pizzeria there are round pizzas (New York-style) and square pizzas (Detroit-style). There’s also cheesy, bitey cacio e pepe, Sicilian-style doughnuts and the team’s (The Unicorn, Mary’s) usual killer selection of natural wines. But back to the pizzas. An ode to trash food, they show off the Mary’s team’s skill at mixing the highbrow and the lowbrow. A three-day fermented pizza base may be spread with fancy fior di latte cheese, but then topped off with “shit mozzarella” and “crap pepperoni” according to co-owner Jake Smyth. It might be trash, but it’s damn tasty trash.
And … if you like pizza try
Sure, you could head to New York or Italy for a slice. But some of Sydney’s newbies are turning out mighty fine pizza pies right now. Bella Brutta’s clam pizza has reached almost mythical status in the Broadsheet office, and its marinara pizza is also bloody great.
Bonnie’s, the wine bar in Maurice Terzini’s Bondi Beach Public Bar, is taking a different tact, with fried pizza finished in a woodfired oven so it’s hot and crisp. The toppings change regularly, but the one constant is a red, a white and a green option, so you have “a nice little Italian flag when you buy all three of them”, according to chef Monty Koludrovic.