It’s not often you’ll see a popular restaurant shut in its prime and turn into something new. But for some time now restaurateur Maurice Terzini (Icebergs, The Dolphin Hotel, Bondi Beach Public Bar) has been wanting to change up the format of his Bondi pizza diner Da Orazio Pizza + Porchetta. When he opened the restaurant in 2014 with chef Orazio D’Elia (who left in 2017 to launch Matteo in Double Bay) there weren’t too many pizza places in Bondi – particularly ones working in classic Neapolitan style. Recently, that’s changed.

“When we started, there were two, three pizzerias in Bondi,” Terzini tells Broadsheet. “Now, they’re everywhere and everyone is doing the same crap. It almost became unbearable – we were just doing the same thing as everyone.”

The fact that D’Elia’s name was still on the door didn’t help matters. So, when Mitch Orr closed Acme, his boundary-pushing pasta restaurant in Rushcutters Bay, earlier this year, Terzini pounced. Orr is now head chef at CicciaBella, which opened on the weekend in the space formerly occupied by Da Orazio. There, he’s cooking healthy southern-Italian food, and has brought along the rebellious streak he’s become known for.

“He’s got a really nice touch, I always felt,” says Terzini. “Plus … he’s got an Italian style of cooking in him. And Mitch is really healthy, he does yoga. I wanted CicciaBella to be a reflection of southern Italy, the Adriatic coast. Broad beans on the table with a little olive oil takes a bit of courage. Mitch has that courage. He’s the perfect chef for what I wanted to achieve. And this is the right time of his career; it’s something with a little bit more stablilty, a bit more support structure for him. It just ended up being a really good fit.”

Terzini says Da Orazio had become an “in-and-out” venue. People would come in, eat two pizzas and leave by 8pm. He’s hoping CicciaBella will be different – a place where people will linger over several plates of food and a few glasses of wine. “Da Orazio was designed to be a pizzeria – pizza being the main focus, the food second focus. CicciBella is the opposite,” he says.

While CicciaBella will still serve pizzas, they’ve been downsized to smaller pizzetta, with toppings including potato, rosemary and lardo (cured fatback), and ’nduja, olive and mozzarella. More compact pizza means more room in the enormous woodfired oven to cook other foods, such as fire-blasted whole-roasted fish, pippies and vegetables.

The antipasti menu includes fried calzone with mortadella and tomato, bone marrow with gremolata, and blue swimmer crab and mascarpone toast. What everyone expects from Orr, though, is pasta. And he delivers, with strozzapreti (twisted pasta) with zucchini flowers and pangrattato (breadcrumbs), maltagliati (thinly cut pasta) with braised rabbit and pistachio, and bucatini with osso-buco ragu. There are also heartier dishes such as market fish with seaweed butter and lemon, and pork chop with salt and vinegar. And of course Orr brings some non-traditional flavours – perhaps a splash of sesame oil and dashi.

The Icebergs Group’s wine director, James Hird, has worked on an Italian-focused minimal intervention wine list for the launch, leaning towards light and fresh easy-drinkers.

“While the grapes we all know – chardonnay, shiraz, sauvignon blanc and the like – are wonderful, there are many other grape varieties lurking unheralded in vineyards around the globe,” says Hird. “These varieties are equally as amazing as those we find familiar, if not more so. We wanted to begin in the regions of Italy and get a sense of the places that are the foundation stones of Italian wine’s relationship with food.”

Over time Hird’s list will evolve to become mostly Australian. He hasn’t included vintages on the list, as a show of support for producers through all seasons, as the climate changes and regions and producers adapt to warmer growing conditions. Matt Whiley, from boundary-pushing bar Scout (found at the top level of The Dolphin), has crafted a cocktail list to complement the food and wine offerings.

Architects Herbert and Mason (Reuben Hills, Melbourne’s Meatsmith and King & Godfree) were charged with developing a darker, more intimate interiors. But Terzini says he and a mate, Benzo, were in CicciaBella working on the design until 4am each morning in the lead-up to the opening. Expect Terzini’s (who designs esoteric fashion label Ten Pieces) typically off-kilter touches, such as letters engraved into sconces and concrete walls, and tie-dye cloths hung from walls and surfaces.

“We worked on how we wanted to incorporate art into the restaurant, make it more rebellious, tongue in cheek but intellectual. That’s what we’ve been trying to do with the art,” says Terzini. “I don’t aim for perfection, it’s a bit boring.”

CicciaBella
75-79 Hall Street, Bondi Beach
(02) 8090 6969

Hours
Mon to Fri 5pm–late
Sat & Sun 12pm–late

cicciabella.com.au