At a meagre 24 years old, Maurizio Terzini opened the famed Café et Cucina on Chapel Street in Melbourne, which led to an empire built from iconic locations and restaurants – North Bondi Italian, Giuseppe Arnaldo & Sons, La Macelleria, Neild Avenue and the jewel in the crown, Icebergs. Places to eat and to be seen.
The formula has always seemed simple: good food, good people, good surrounds, then leave it as it is. Forget the stuffy, dated, typical or otherwise expected Italian restaurants of first or second-generation immigrants. He delivered Chapel Street to Melbourne from the old to the new school; he was, and still is, the bridge.
But to meet this man 24 years later, in the wake of the success and drama, I genuinely wonder who he is and what success has made him.
We sit in the bar at a bench surrounded by appropriately ocean coloured leather suites and cushions. Come summer, this will be a new bar and Terzini points to spots where things will be, where people will sit, where music will be played. It’s also Terzini in a nutshell: modern, welcoming and entertaining. But like Terzini, it worries if it’s old hat, if this music is still relevant and if this place is still important. This is Icebergs and good music is good music, but relevance is crucial, so what of the future?
Earlier this year, Terzini and Marchetti split and went their separate ways. It was nothing sinister, nothing untoward – just knowing how and when to finish one chapter and begin another. That’s why I’m here: Terzini has plans (big plans) and after he finishes a meeting with the Federal Police regarding an upcoming Royal visit, we’ll sit at the soon to be bar to discuss what’s in store for the 10th anniversary of Icebergs.
“There was always this thing about [Icebergs], ‘Is it a restaurant or is it a bar?’ and over the years it has become a little bit tired,” says Terzini.
“It’s our 10th year anniversary,” he continues, “and the fact that I’ve taken Icebergs on my own now, I really want to get it back…to the jewel in the crown.”
Terzini launches into his plans. All this will be gone when the celebrations kick in. “Ten years ago it was pretty touch and go out here…there was a lot of negativity towards us…that we’d never fill it, so on December 14th we want to celebrate,” he says with defiance and a rebellious spirit, as if to prove that he’s done it.
Terzini’s personal style is a look that he’s made his own, and evidence that the ‘drapey’, hung-crotch, loose clothing normally associated with surly, inner city fashion kids can be worn in a relaxed and easy manner. When we meet, he’s wearing typical Terzini garb: a pair of white overalls randomly covered in graffiti-style black pen (which could either be worth $1000 or $10), some canvas trainers and a black wrap cardigan that he is forever throwing over his shoulder. What seem totally incongruous are the reading glasses he slips on when a note is handed his way. He may be 48, but he looks 38 and his demeanour 28. There’s an element of Peter Pan, of a boy at play.
Restless without a doubt, he talks with a bit of a fidget and explains the long list of potential Iceberg events and ideas to commemorate the anniversary. He’s not backward in coming forward either, or discussing several topics at once. He ignores his phone’s repeated attempts for attention – a shockingly old handset that turns more heads for its quaintness than one of Apple’s latest devices.
The plan is 10 events, 10 ambassadors, 10 projects, just about 10 of everything, it seems, scattered throughout the next 12 months. Some are throwbacks to his disco days, like the 10 ambassadors receiving key chain medallions for their effort. Other ideas have you on the edge of your seat, wondering how he’ll pull it all off, like the (as yet unconfirmed) presence of super chefs such as Rick Stein and Heston Blumenthal, who he throws out there as potential suitors, catering anything from full houses to intimate 10-seat dinners. It’s ambitious, but Terzini lets loose on his ideas like it’s no big deal. His zeal is the real kicker here, an infectious enthusiasm that leaves doubt at the door. There’ll be music and books, photos and people, new drinks and of course, the new bar.
And it’s the bar that his energies are focused on right now. “I actually lobbied with the State Government to change the licensing laws and I’ve encouraged all these small bars to open, but they’ve all become competition in a way,” he says. “There’s hundreds of them now! We were losing our edge with the bar and it was more comfortable to drink up the road than come here.”
His plan was to utilise “a space within a space, like he did for Neild Avenue. “I met Matthew Herbert (of architecture firm Herbert & Mason, responsible for recent Surry Hills coffee hit Rueben Hills) at a party of a mutual friend and I told him one of my favourite stores was Ksubi’s The Bombed Mache in Armadale. At the time I didn’t know it was his work.”
The Ksubi store was essentially a cardboard house, complete with roof, inside a concrete retail space, displaying all the wit and tongue in cheek charm we’ve come to expect from Ksubi. From there, Herbert & Mason’s involvement in the Icebergs redesign seemed fait accompli.
But the challenge with Icebergs will be context. You don’t come to Bondi to look at the walls and the planned revitalisation of the space will require some of that same wit and execution used on the Ksubi space, all the while operating within the bounds of the location (and the view). Herbert & Mason are extremely capable thinkers, their work ingeniously Australian but with the kind of international draw that matches Icebergs’ obvious global appeal and gravitas. It’s a fresh approach for the next chapter and the results will be something to watch.
“[The update] will be so everyone can see each other, ‘cause bars are about flirting, eye contact – everyone wants to have a flirt when they’re pissed.” And, he adds with a grin that means he’s serious, “I’ll have a flirt.”
He makes me laugh and I wonder if he’s just saying what we’re all thinking. He’s only trying to make your next night out a good one and he’s been doing that exact same thing for years.
They’re an inseparable pair, Terzini and his Icebergs dining room. They stand the test of time and they both speak the same language – modern, welcoming and entertaining – but there’s the worry that it’s old hat, that the place’s relevance isn’t what it once was. Icebergs is Icebergs, but relevance is crucial.
One wonders if Terzini even thinks like that. Maybe the next 10 years are simply that – 10 more years of doing what he knows and loves. The plans are in place and a man is a success for action, not talk.
The afternoon drifts into dinner and the waiters walk in with their fitted, white, three-button jackets as if they’ve been shipped upright in crates from Italy, chomping at the bit to throw ‘signores’ and ‘signoras’ across the room. It’s a balance of traditionalism, professionalism, theatre and new-school Sydney.
Terzini switches on, as if he wasn’t already. If you’ve ever seen a film about a restaurant owner, he’s that guy, his Italian roots shining through, and it’s great fun to watch. It’s a gift and he makes it look very, very easy. He runs it like he would a cafe or the Cucina of old. Only now it’s Bondi. He’s traded up.
He’s constantly managing chaos, the bar and patrons throwing spanners. People walk over: “Is there a table for six? For three? In 20 minutes?” Then it’s the cool response, while it simmers. It’s there, you know it’s there, but it just bubbles and gives the place its dynamism. I am in the middle of it. It’s a scene that’s been played before, but it never fails to excite. The beauty is that you either notice it or you don’t. If you don’t, it’s worked. If you do, then it’s worked too.
It’s a trip. He’s generous with his time and with his ideas. He swears like a sailor, which is actually a comforting thing, and in here he sees all and he knows all.
As if to remind me why we’re here, a God-like beam of light shines down on North Bondi at a particularly beautiful moment of the evening. I’m keen to point it out, like I’ve just witnessed tears of the Madonna, yet Maurizio and his team scurry by as if nonplussed by divinity.
Maurizio Terzini will hold his own regardless. He still has good music to play; it’s how he’ll play it and who to. He rose to the top and now he is working out how to do it again. The split with Marchetti may have granted him some independence, but how he uses that and what he does will be of crucial importance, not just over the next 12 months, but also over the next 10 years. He’s in it for the long haul and he’s a stayer – this is his game after all – and as long as that seat with a view remains, it will be something to watch.