The chance to taste a menu designed by fine-dining chef Giovanni Pilu – renowned for his Sardinian restaurant Pilu at Freshwater – just got a whole lot more affordable with the opening of AcquaFresca by Pilu.

The casual Italian restaurant has opened inside the newly redeveloped, cliff-side Harbord Diggers, which opened last weekend following a $200 million renovation. It resembles a casual seaside trattoria you’d find along the Italian coast; it has stone archways, an open kitchen and floor-to-ceiling glass bi-fold doors that open onto a terrace featuring alfresco seating and undisturbed views of the ocean.

“But it’s nothing like Pilu,” says co-owner Marilyn Annecchini, Pilu’s wife. “It’s very casual dining, [but] the food does not disappoint. The menu is made up of recognisable Italian dishes and divided into an extensive antipasti list, pasta, secondi (mains), dolci (desserts) and pizza, all designed to share.”

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For antipasti there’s calamari fritti, fried zucchini flowers and Annecchini’s recommendation: prosciutto sliced to order using the red Berkel slicer on display. It’s also used to shave off the mortadella, which is served with the house-made fingers of focaccia.

The puffy-edged, thin-centred Neapolitan-style pizzas are made from blended wholemeal, spelt and semolina flour imported from Sardinia. There’s the Napoli, with San Marzano tomatoes, anchovies, capers and black olives, and the bottarga, a bianca (white) base pizza with fior di latte (mozzarella), potato, bottarga (cured fish roe) and artichokes.

Pastas are rolled daily; we like the saffron maccheroncini tossed with braised lamb shoulder, a squeeze of lemon and shavings of fresh Parmigiano. And there are just four mains; one is a whole baby snapper with green olives and vernaccia (an Italian white wine), one of Pilu’s first signature dishes at his first venture, Cala Luna, which operated at The Spit in Mosman before they set up Pilu in 2004.

For dessert Annecchini suggests the tiramisu, but there’s also a gelato cart that stocks artisanal gelato made with the help of Freshwater’s patisserie, Mrs Jones The Baker, using pastes from Sicily.

AcquaFresca pours a mix of Italian and local wines and there’s a selection of classic Italian cocktails and aperitifs such as Aperol spritz and, of course, a Negroni.

AcquaFresca by Pilu
Harbord Diggers, 88 Evans Street, Freshwater
(02) 9071 8681

Daily 11.30am–4pm, 5.30pm–10.30pm

This article first appeared on Broadsheet on June 27, 2018. Menu items may have changed since publication.