Not many Italian restaurants in Sydney have a foosball table. But as you enter Lola’s Italian & Bar – formerly Lola’s Level 1 – in Bondi, you’ll clock the classic tabletop game.
“It was a tongue-in-cheek move to put the foosball table at the front door,” co-owner Marco Ambrosino tells Broadsheet. “However, it’s proving to be a real hit with the kids while the parents chill and dine. The occasional mum and dad will have a spin also between drinks or pasta.”
The table pulls double duty: during the day it’s topped with a pasta-making board and pasta machine, which are moved before service so foosball fanatics can get their game on. It’s emblematic of the beachside diner’s new direction. When it opened in 2021 as Lola’s Level 1, it leaned more pan-Mediterranean. Now, it’s gone 100 per cent Italian with a renewed focus on generous hospitality. They are both qualities embedded in the two Sydney institutions Ambrosino famously co-owned for many years: Fratelli Paradiso and 10 Willliam St. Ambrosino – who co-owns Lola’s with Manny Spinola (Grand Pacific Group) – has also appointed a new head chef, Toby Stansfield, who was most recently head chef at the Old Fitz and before that at Fabbrica.
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“In my previous businesses … I played a big role in the involvement and hiring of such current greats as Dan Pepperell, Trisha Greentree and Enrico Tomelleri, just to name a few. Now at Lola’s I think Toby will also prove to be another great chef that I will work with side by side,” says Ambrosino.
The cornerstone of Stansfield’s menu is top NSW produce, from which he builds Italian classics like semolina spaghetti with vongole (clams) and ’nduja; cotoletta alla Milanese; and crudo with preserved lemon and dill. He’s also done a restaurant-style take on Ambrosino’s mum’s lasagne. Ambrosino says that while dishes will flit in and out with the seasons, a few will always be on the “‘don’t touch, the regulars love it’ menu”. They include the pane pomodoro (bread topped with tomato) with jamon or prosciutto; calamari fritti; and octopus all’amatriciana.
“The options of Italian food are endless, but I will always insist on having those comfort and familiar dishes so patrons need not be challenged by the quality Italian food served at Lola’s,” says Ambrosino.
Naturally, the wine list presented by manager and sommelier Mon Ditbunjong (ex-Ragazzi, Dear Sainte Eloise, Gerald’s Bar) is Italian-focused. Overall, the new concept has been designed to allow guests to have a quick weeknight bowl of pasta and glass of wine, or settle in for a long, boozy meal to soak up the venue’s incredible Bondi views in a space decorated with wall art, murals and ceramics made by Ambrosino’s wife Pina Ambrosino.
“Italian food, culture, style of service and its generosity towards people is what I truly appreciate and have practised every moment of every day in all my past and current restaurants,” says Ambrosino. “I love eating my food at Lola’s and it gives me even more pleasure to serve it to others.”