Making pizza dough is a hard skill to teach because so much of the process relies on intuition.

“When I started, I thought because we’re not doing sourdough, it would be quite direct,” Federico Zanellato – the fine-dining chef behind Lumi Dining, Lode Pies and Pastries and Restaurant Leo – tells Broadsheet. “Instead, every single day, things change. The pizza chef is adjusting all the time for temperature, humidity, timing – even how long the pizza flour bag has been open. You can only understand it by managing and mixing dough day after day after day.”

In December, Zanellato opened Avoja (Roman slang for “hell yeah”, pronounced “ah-voy-ya”) in Manly, partnering with fellow Lumi alums Angelo Cristella and Piero Fonseca.

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Zanellato is a self-taught pizzaiolo, but he’s working with some of the best in the business, including Matteo Ernandes (Matteo Double Bay, Da Orazio) who is heading up the open kitchen and pizza oven at the charming northern beaches spot.

The brief is Neapolitan pizza, but Zanellato calls Avoja’s take “contemporary”, adding that they’re not aiming for the coveted Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana accreditation.

“Before we opened Avoja, my wife and I went to Naples and we spent days eating pizza for lunch and dinner. We noticed a shift: there’s a wave of young pizzaiolos using stone-ground flour to make lighter dough with higher hydration.”

A lighter dough begins with a 24-hour pre-ferment before the dough is mixed with a touch more yeast and enough water to increase hydration to 75 per cent. It’s then shaped into 260-gram balls and fermented for another four hours. “Classic Napoli pizza has around 60 per cent hydration. When we increase the water and reduce the cooking temperature, the dough becomes lighter and more digestible. The pre-ferment also adds an extra layer of flavour and texture.”

Toppings are simple, with four classic and five anointed contemporary options. For classics there’s a bright margherita, a marinara, a capricciosa and a spicy ’nduja, while the modern section of the menu is where Zanellato gets excited. “We’ve got yellow tomato with pancetta, guanciale and zucchini flower. My favourite is the four-cheese, with manchego, gorgonzola, smoked provolone and ricotta topped with truffle honey and candied walnut.”

There are almost as many share plates as pizzas – think tuna crudo with nectarines and green chilli, Fremantle octopus with preserved lemon and chickpeas, and heirloom tomatoes with basil and a golden olive oil. That floaty dough can also be enjoyed twice-fried, the pizza fritta ripe for a topping of stracciatella or parma ham.

When the Avoja team refurbished the woodfire oven at the former Ironbark Woodfire Pizza site, pulled the peach gingham tablecloths over the outdoor tables and created a gallery wall of Italian greats – like Sophia Loren and Luciano Pavarotti – Zanellato was cautiously optimistic. He thought it would take time to gain traction in the neighbourhood, so he only equipped the restaurant with the dough mixer he used at home. But just a month since opening, queues form every weekend, and sometimes takeaway orders have to be refused.

“We thought it would be just a small neighbourhood restaurant, but that mixer is working so hard. We shape 140 to 150 balls every day and we usually run out on Friday and Saturday night. We just get smashed. It’s very unexpected; we are blown away by the support from the locals.”

208 Pittwater Road, Manly
0457 192 523

Tue to Fri 5.30pm–10.30pm
Sat & Sun 4pm–10.30pm
(or until sold out)