We've all heard of boomerang employees, those who leave a workplace only to return at a later date down the track, but what about boomerang owners? Orazio D'Elia opened Da Orazio Pizza + Porchetta in Bondi, alongside Maurice Terzini back in 2014. It was an instant hit. But D'Elia left in 2018 to open Matteo in Double Bay and the CBD (he sold his share of the business last year to his partners), and Terzini turned Da Orazio into Cicciabella.
When Cicciabella closed at the end of last year, D'Elia decided to come home, and has returned to the same site – and suburb – where it all started for him. Now, Da Orazio 2.0 is open, in its original location. D'Elia has become a boomerang business owner.
"When I bought it off Maurice, I just thought: I want this restaurant – there's still something of me that belongs there," says D'Elia. "I was actually sometimes afraid of reopening it; it's like going back to an old girlfriend – if you left her in the first place that means there's some issues there, right?"
"But people said to me, 'we had a good time there, it's not that you left because things were going pear-shaped, you left because you went to do something else,'" D'Elia says. "A lot of people said go for it – and the love that I'm getting from people, reopening the doors, is amazing."
Bondi is a suburb that's always had more than its fair share of Italian restaurants – and with one seeming to open now every other week, not to mention the rest of Sydney – will Da Orazio have the same effect as it did the first time around?
"Obviously, yes, there are a lot of Italian restaurants," says D'Elia. "But I think my offering is different, I've got my own way of doing Italian."
"[Da Orazio] is more casual – the menu will change quite often, and you can come two, three times a week."
D'Elia is heading up the kitchen, and he's designed a menu comprised of old favourites – such as the porchetta with focaccia, a burrata panzanella salad, and fregola frutta di mare – alongside new dishes, such as pollo mattone (brick chicken). If you're with a group, consider ordering the porchetta alla Romana for four, which sees a hunk of the rolled and wood-roasted pork loin carved, and best enjoyed alongside a range of contorni. Other Italian staples are given wry tweaks: osso bucco ragù, which is typically served with risotto alla Milanese, is served here with saffron pappardelle instead.
Pizza is still a prominent part of the offering. Pizza chef Matteo Ernandes, whose first job in Australia was at the original Da Orazio, is using the biga pre-ferment method combined with a highly-hydrated dough, which purportedly leads to a more easily-digested pizza.
"It's lighter and fluffier," says D'Elia. "I bet you can eat two, it's so light."
There are around 15 pizzas on the menu, from classics such as Margherita, diavola, and prosciutto to deeper cuts such as Mastu Nicola – a rendition of the original Neapolitan pizza involving pumpkin, eggplant, sausage ragù, provola cheese and Pecorino. The menu will change around often.
The wine list, pulled together by general manager Cristiano Poddine, is an easy-drinking batch of predominantly Italian vinos. All of the big growing regions are amply represented across reds, whites, sparklings and rosés. (There are also two very temptingly-priced house wines.) Cocktails, meanwhile, skew classic, with a handful of Italian-inflected signatures to choose from.
The Da Orazio space has been given a mature spruce-up, too. Loopcreative's Rod Faucheux led the refit of the 90-seat space. It's coastal and casual, but also refined. Honeyed timber bentwoods and caramel-coloured leather banquettes are set against a neutral palette of stucco-style cream, white, and ecru walls. It's punctuated by cerulean-tiled tabletops. A 40-person next-door sidebar, Orazietto, is also open for walk-ins, or anyone looking to stop by for a quick drink and some antipasti.
The entire venue has clearly been done to D'Elia's exact specifications. Now that he's back at the restaurant that made him, he's made it his own.
"We're only a small restaurant but I'm in the driver's seat. The reason I wanted to come back to Da Orazio was to be on my own and to express myself," says D'Elia.
"My ass is on the line, as they say – but being your own boss is always better."