After the roaring success of upmarket Waterloo eatery Paperbark, Grace Watson and Joe Pagliaro wanted their next project to be something casual and friendly – which is exactly what they’ve achieved with Peppe’s, their newly opened Italian joint in Bondi.

“We really love Bondi Road, and we thought the best thing for it would be Italian,” says Pagliaro. “It’s such a great retail strip … All the staff are our friends – this is our community.”

Pagliaro has a point about Bondi Road, where Peppe’s now stands. Its neighbours include Ode, Sefa and The Corner House, as well as two other Italian eateries, Totti’s and Elva. The new restaurant is different to those places. Like the pair’s other ventures (they’re also behind Coffee Bondi Beach and Verd) everything is vegan, and there isn’t a single dish where a person might lament the absence of meat.

“None of our businesses are for vegans,” says Pagliaro. “They’re for meat eaters who see the value in eating more plants in their diet, but who don’t want to compromise on taste.”

He’s right – the pastas are extremely tasty and if you didn’t know the gnocchi bianchi (white sauce) was vegan, you’d think it had butter in it. It’s made using a rich, creamy porcini and cauliflower sauce. “We cook it down with a three-hour porcini reduction, garlic, onion, crispy sage – all the good stuff,” says Watson.

The succinct menu is posted on a chalkboard each day. As well as the white gnocchi, today there’s a green pesto version and one with tomato sauce , plus a pasta of the day limited to 30 portions. At the moment it’s spaghetti with chilli and pangrattato (breadcrumbs).

Sides include a couple salads, heirloom tomatoes and vegetables (such as squash, chilli and garlic), and antipasti featuring arancini and a very tasty rendition of garlic bread. Here it’s made on a slice of Iggy’s and topped with fennel, garlic and olive oil. Bliss.

Drinks are equally well chosen. There’s spritz, Negroni and Old Fashioned, all for $15, and around eight bottles of wine. “They’re all minimal intervention wines of the same ilk that we serve at Paperbark. Some are Italian, some Aussie,” says Pagliaro.

With success and reputation comes clout and perhaps an opportunity to charge a bit more, but Peppe’s is doing the opposite. “People are sick of spending $30 on a bowl of pasta,” he says. “We’re not trying to make the maximum profit. If you’re gunning for profit, it’s usually at the expense of staff enjoyment. You have high stress levels; suppliers are being squeezed. We work backwards from what’s a fun environment that also makes money.”

Plus, for Watson and Pagliaro, charging high prices means they could never become the neighbourhood haunt they hope to be. “With more expensive places, people will only come every now and then, but the most fun thing for us is if people come back every week. Keeping the price down will achieve that,” says Watson.

When asked if they feel like old hands after opening another venue, their response is laid-back. “People think we should be stressed and maybe we should, but it’s going really well. We might have been in a different frame of mind if the [opening] weekend had gone badly,” says Pagliaro, laughing.

“It’s not that we’re super confident,” says Watson. “We’re working full time doing what we love doing. We’re into doing that and having fun.”

261 Bondi Road, Bondi

Mon & Wed–Sun, 5pm–9.30pm

This article first appeared on Broadsheet on April 17, 2019. Menu items may have changed since publication.