“I want people to come to my restaurant two to three times a week,” says Giovanni Pilu, the owner-chef behind Freshwater’s fine-dining Italian restaurant, Pilu. The Sardinian-born chef is opening a casual trattoria (yet to be named) in May, below the Harbord Diggers club that is being redeveloped to include restaurants, cafes and apartments. “That’s the food I want to serve – I do fine dining at Pilu, but I can also do very simple food.”
The developers behind the club approached Pilu, seeing him as the right fit for the space on the northern tip of Freshwater Beach. “We’re locals, we’ve been here forever. We’re practically next door [Pilu is at the south end of the beach]. We know the area so well,” says Pilu.
The plan is to have a large communal table in the centre of the room and an open kitchen, where Pilu will invite people to pull up a chair at what will feel like his own dining-room table. “Come for a glass of wine, a beer … a Negroni with simple, elegant dishes … a pizza or a pasta,” he says. “I want people to come and have fun. Eat, drink, relax … with kids running around, just like on the Italian coast. When you rock up, it’s not too fussy, not too stuck up, you just sit. I love that.”
There’ll be a focus on antipasto, with “perfectly” grilled vegetables, prosciutto, vitello tonnato (cold, sliced veal covered in a creamy mayonnaise sauce with tuna), and house-made fingers of focaccia (Broadsheet would love to see more of this Italian staple being served Sydney) to mop up the oil.
The pizza will be Neapolitan in style (puffy at the edges, and thin in the centre) and will be made with the kind of dough that won’t leave you feeling bloated. “We’re working with a friend of mine who’s a baker. I told him what we wanted, and he’s come up with a special kind of flour, just for us: a wholemeal mix with a bit of colour, flavour, mixed with zero [tipo 00 flour]. I want to know where the dough comes from, where the grain is drawn,” says Pilu.
When asked if he is hesitant to attempt taking a slice out of what’s already a competitive and saturated market in Sydney – pizza – Pilu doesn’t seem fazed. “I personally love pizza,” he says. “If I put a pizza on my menu, it’s going to be brilliant.”
The pizzas and the handmade pasta will be made with just one or two ingredients, for example a bianca (white) will be sprinkled with bottarga, buffalo mozzarella and olive oil from Mudgee. “It’s the equivalent of a naked marinara – this is a Sardinian version,” says Pilu.
“People think anyone can cook simple food … and you think, ‘Hang on a second, it’s not easy. No, no, no, no. You need good ingredients to execute it really well,” he says.
Natural wines from Italy will be poured, and there’ll be a long list of Negronis. You won’t, however, find French wine or champagne here. “I grew up with natural wines made by my family. You open a bottle from the same vineyard as another and it will be completely different. I love that,” says Pilu.
Pilu’s restaurant will open in May this year.