There are so many different things going on at Grolla it’s difficult to define. Because it uses smoke in almost all of its dishes, you could say it’s a smokehouse. But tell people that and they’ll think of saucy ribs, brisket and everything Americana. Grolla has pastas, but they’re not strictly Italian, or any other single cuisine.

“The smoke is the centre. The Italian side is just an influence at the moment. Maybe in one year we won't be so Italian-focused. We will explore something else,” says Grolla’s co-owner and maître d’, Paolo Pirinya. He and partner Lek Pirinya, the head chef, are relative newcomers to hospitality – Paolo is a former videogame art director and Luk was in IT. You can tell. Not because Grolla is sloppy or unrefined, but because it’s almost naively courageous.

Take the desserts; tiny Cornettos with fresh berries, pistachio and peach coulis are served on a bed of salt rocks in half a wine bottle. A superbly constructed mascarpone semifreddo has a mango-and-lime-curd centre and a drizzle of smoked caramel and strawberry dust. “Luk really enjoys exploring. If she went in anyone direction she would feel restricted,” says Paolo. That’s why when it comes to the smoke element they haven’t stuck to one cuisine. A smoked kingfish carpaccio is dressed in yuzu olive oil and flying-fish roe. And smoked duck breasts are decorated with miniature dollops of ricotta and a caramelised-fig sauce. The signature dish is a chunky beef rib with pickled fennel, mustard and green mojo sauce (a spicy, Latin, herb-based sauce). “We want Grolla to be a bit of entertainment. It's not just to come and eat before the theatre. We want the entertainment to be on the table,” says Paolo.

Lek and Paolo talk to most tables. Seats at the bar overlook the antipasti prep and the walls are covered in Paolo’s paintings. “Many restaurants in areas like this open with as many seats as they can, but we really want to focus on the experience of the guests,” Paolo says.

256 Military Road, Neutral Bay
0490 533 023

Wed to Sun 5.30pm–10.30pm