Fire up the pizza oven and crack out the party wines, Mr Liquor's Dirty Italian Disco is back. At least that's what the brief might have looked like when Merivale approached Mike Eggert to follow up the Pinbone pop-up with a stint at The Royal, the Bondi pub the hospitality group revamped in September. Instead, Eggert is on board to launch Totti's, a casual 185-seat Mediterranean-style restaurant at the Bondi Road venue, in December.
"It was originally meant to be a fun little pop-up in the front bar, then it was both bars, then it was using the existing equipment, and then Justin Hemmes' vision kicked in," says Eggert. "Now it's this amazing space with this sensational Mediterranean, summery indoor-outdoor dining room, with a new kitchen and a brand spanking new big beautiful pizza oven to make our bread in. We can't wait."
The front end of the menu at Totti's will function much like the snacks section at Mr Liquor, but built around an Italian-style flatbread that's stretched out and thrown in the wood-fired oven to order. Eggert envisions diners pulling it apart, and loading up on sides: the likes of 'nduja, brawn and chicken-liver parfait made in house, as well as a selection of cheeses and charcuterie. "We've got burrata, ricotta, all that fun stuff, along with seasonal vegetables, pickles, figs, rockmelon," he says. "Everything's served on little plates, and people can just rip and tear and have a really good time."
The pasta section extends the theme from Eggert's time with the Pinbone pop-ups at 10 William Street and Mr Liquor, with fresh dough being rolled out and shaped onsite. Expect lamb ragù with pappardelle, milk-braised pork belly with rigatoni, casarecce with a spinach and herb sauce, and a dish of fregola with mussels, calamari and roasted Italian peppers.
Joining Eggert in the kitchen is Khan Danis, who cooked with the Rockpool group for nearly 20 years, including time running the show at the both the Sydney and Melbourne iterations of Rockpool Bar & Grill. He has form in the Italian stakes, too, having opened Cipro Pizza al Taglio in Alexandria in 2013. "He's a phenomenal wood-fire chef, but he's also fantastic at pasta, and has his head around making sausages and charcuterie," says Eggert. "It'll be a collaboration between the two of us in terms of the way the food will come out and the way it will taste. But he's a superstar, a legend of the craft, so he'll basically be in charge of everything good."
A Josper charcoal grill is the central element for main courses, turning out large-format dishes including whole fish from seafood supplier Bruce Collis, house-made sausages, schnitzels and an 800 gram rib-eye to share. Grilled beans and broccolini join an Italian-style broken rice as well as the buttery polenta that graced the menu at Mr Liquor, as sides.
Drinks, meanwhile, skew Italian, with the wine list leaning towards organic and small producers, and Sam Egerton, formerly of Charlie Parker's and Palmer & Co, and Bars Manager for Merivale, is pushing retro classics for cocktails. "Negronis, Spritzes, Bellinis, Espresso Martinis, but with a bit of a '70s vibe," says Eggert. "It'll be really approachable, really casual and classic, which is what our food is, so it's a good balance."
With Jemma Whiteman currently at Lankan Filling Station, the prospect of the Pinbone team reuniting seems far off, although Eggert isn't ruling it out. "There's definitely an avenue," he says.
And for anyone who claims that the Mediterranean diet died out long ago, Eggert plays it straight. "The people in the Mediterranean certainly aren't dead," he says. "They've had a culture of doing exemplary food for thousands of years based on exceptional produce, simple cooking, and excellent hospitality. So I think it's folly not to stick to their principles." See you by the sea.
Totti's at The Royal, 283 Bondi Rd, opens December, merivale.com