Maurice Terzini, restaurant man, former Melburnian, fashion designer and provocateur, has clear ideas about what Da Orazio should and shouldn't be. "I don't want it to be a restaurant that does pizza," he tells me. "It's a pizzeria that does other food on the side." The recent history of pizzerias that do other food in Australia is positive. Ladro, Mr Wolf, Supermaxi - heck, even some places that aren't in Melbourne have made a fist of it. The new Mario's in Rosebery is an excellent example. Following examples, though, isn't what Maurice Terzini is all about. This is the same fashion-forward individual who invented the row of Campari bottles as a decorative motif, the restaurateur with the golden touch who (apart from a surprisingly leaden lapse with Neild Avenue) has created concepts so strong that they often endure long after he's left the building. So when Maurice Terzini gets into pizza, people sit up and take notice.
They take notice, and then they pour into the place by the score. The thing you'll notice first about Da Orazio is that there's a line out the door. Unlike the dearly departed North Bondi Italian Food and the ill-fated Neild, this one actually takes bookings, but only from five to till seven-thirty, and after that it's a free-for-all. Terzini and the manager, long-term collaborator Rachel Duffy, are past masters of the juggle and the squeeze; the finesse that was so notably absent at Neild Avenue is back in spades, a palpable force. In the same way Hitchcock liked starting with problems and working backwards to the solutions, Terzini seems to revel in creating restaurants with small tables where you're encouraged to order food that can't possibly fit (pizza is great for this), requiring deft manipulations of the usual laws of spatial-relations by the waiters.
The other thing you might notice is that it's not called Da Maurice, Da Maurizio or Da Mozza (though that last one seems pretty Bondi-ready). In the wake of dissolving his partnership with chef Robert Marchetti, Terzini last year recruited Orazio d'Elia, then chef at Popolo in Rushcutters Bay, to the fold. D'Elia worked for him at Icebergs (where ubiquitous consultant Paul Wilson now has a hand in the menu, and former Bécasse chef Monty Koludrovic has taken the reins from Ben Horne in the kitchen) and now lends his name and skills to this new caper. It appears thus far to be a mutually beneficial relationship.
The name of the restaurant is actually Da Orazio Pizza + Porchetta, and that's exactly what it's about. There is no porchetta pizza. This is probably a good thing. But there is a porchetta sandwich. This is a very, very good thing. Chef d'Elia buys his Berkshire pigs around the 18-kilo mark and roasts them slowly, boned, rolled and spitted, until they're burnished on the outside and pale and juicy within. There's a pleasing texture to the meat that you don't get with suckling pig, and in a focaccia con porchetta (per the carte), it's just about as good as it gets, the pizza-style bread puffy, dimpled and salty, the pork in lovely, plentiful and uneven slices. If you were to pick, you could say that in a truly perfect world the marinated grilled eggplant would be a little bit more giving. It is nonetheless the finest and most handsome porchetta sandwich I've had the pleasure of eating this side of Panificio Bonci in Rome. It's sold in serves for four; the pork is also sold on its own on platters designed for one ($24), two ($45) or four ($80). It comes with lemon and a little jug of jus. It's rich and the portioning is reasonably generous, so I'd counsel relative restraint in ordering.
Porchetta is from Rome, the pizze are done in the style of Naples, d'Elia's home-town, and Terzini's Abruzzese heritage gets a look-in with the house wines "from the family village" and with the arrosticini. The arrosticini are good examples of the genre: tight little skewers of lamb cooked over the grill - served simply with lemon wedges and olive oil, they're a no-brainer.
I've read that Terzini's brief to designer Matthew Herbert was "Rick Owens comes to Bondi". Given the absence of black leather (indeed black fabric of any kind) or wax effigies of Owens, a street goth-leaning Angelino fashion designer, I can only assume Herbert either interpreted that suggestion in the broadest terms or chose to ignore it entirely. (Quoth a companion: "It's more Easton Pearson than Owens, really.") Anyway, what Herbert (the same fella behind the splendid design at Reuben Hills) has come up with is very cool - white on white on white, with some of the timber tables clothed, some not.
This is Bondi, but here in a lower-ground section of the new Boheme development, the closest thing to a view of the water is the sight of surfers' legs and bobbing boards as they walk past up the hill home. The walls and floor are concrete, the bar and oven sit in opposite corners, and in between is a mass of Terzini's signature small tables, which he reconfigures endlessly to accommodate the flow of punters looking for their porchetta fix. The toilets are those ingenious Japanese numbers with built-in basins. Strips of wainscoting form attractive ridges in the ceiling which may ameliorate some of the noise issues, and interest is created by little lamps that sprout in clusters of three in odd places. There's a nod to history in the presence of a framed David Band etching propped on a waiter station. The cutlery comes in Uashmama paper bags, while the staff, a note on the menu confides, are decked out in layered white under their aprons courtesy of (what else?) Terzini's label, 10 Pieces, which they supplement with white Converse low-tops. It's a pretty delicious scene. Hey, is that Mia Freedman?
Sides are mostly good. Broccolini comes in a terribly mean-looking serving (more broccolini or a smaller bowl might do the trick), but is nicely cooked and dressed with chilli and garlic. Ordering bread when you're about to eat pizza and porchetta sandwiches might seem reckless in these carb-fearing times, but both the pane cafone and the schiacciatina are worth getting as accessories for the impressive buffalo mozzarella, sold in 75- and 125-gram lots or the milk-sweet ricotta fresca (scooped from the basket tableside, no less).
Other things of note that are neither pizza nor porchetta: the pasta. The squid-ink noodles, cut on the very same chitarra you see hanging over the open kitchen, are paired with zucchini flowers and prawns, while on the meaty ragù side, there's cavatelli with a sauce of oxtail. Slightly mystifying, oxtail in this sort of heat, but d'Elia knows his stuff. Pizza (and porchetta!) restaurant that this may be, the scialatielli with gooey eggplant and the pop of grape tomatoes (a bit like a thinking person's pasta alla Norma, with smoked mozzarella in place of ricotta) is superior to anything plated up at near-neighbours A Tavola.
I harbour suspicions that dessert doesn't interest Terzini terribly much; the offer here is in line with what you'd expect from a high-turnover, semi-fancy pizza shop:tiramisù (in a preserving jar, not especially notable), bomboloni (like small chocolate-filled doughnuts), ricotta and pear with berries and pistachio (a bit nanna) and gelato (Messina is 32 paces away). Pace the usual carping about serving fruit as is at a restaurant for more than you pay for it in the shops (it's totally legit in Italy), the big wedge of chilled melon is perhaps the ideal thing after all that cheese, bread and cured meat.
File the drinks list in your head as something that's functional rather than thrilling. The offer of fruity, easy-drinking libations at the bar will be familiar to North Bondi Italian and Icebergs regulars (white spirit plus Aperol/Campari plus juice equals profits). It's augmented by a few moderately interesting beers, and a choice of about 20 Italian wines, half of which are under $50 a bottle, all available by the glass. If the floor staff know much about these wines, they don't appear to have the time to share their insights at any length, and would struggle to be heard above the din regardless.
And the pizza? It's good. Great, in fact. You could argue the relative merits of Via Napoli and the Rosebery branch of Mario, my two current favourites, but you wouldn't be wrong to mention Da Orazio in their company. Manning the ovens is a young fella, Luca Napoli, who d'Elia recruited from Napoli itself.
I know nothing of his pizza-making background, but his work speaks for itself, and the flavour and texture he and d'Elia coax out of the dough is really something.
There's a pleasing absence of stunts or novelty on the menu, but it's not exactly doctrinaire, either. The Marinara has Sicilian anchovies, capers and black olives on it, while eggplant adorns the Siciliana along with fior di latte cheese, San Marzano tomato and ricotta. The sense of proportion is restrained and correct. The Diavoletta, my pick of the bunch to date, is enlivened beyond the cheese and tomato by only a handful of very thin slices of salami, but what salami - this stuff is hot. In addition to the melted mozzarella, the Caponatina (zucchini, eggplant, peppers) is garnished with a crumble of parmesan after it's pulled from the oven; a cool touch.
Terzini is one of our most gifted and singular restaurateurs. Melbourne might have made him, but he's been an eastern beaches guy long enough to have acquired a tan and some hand-drawn tatts that would make any Bondi hipster proud. You can tell, too, that he's taken the lessons learned from Neild Avenue to heart. At Da Orazio, we find a Maurice Terzini focused anew, an operator who understands the power of exclusivity making overtures to the inclusive (check that kids' menu). He's back in his element, and you can feel the current flowing.
But what if he has accidentally opened a porchetta shop that also sells pizza, rather than the other way around? He thinks about it for a moment. "I could live with that."
Read more: Gourmet Traveller's best pizza recipes.