Ormeggio 2.0 is not the restaurant Alessandro Pavoni could have opened 11 years ago. In 2009 when Ormeggio established itself at The Spit, in Sydney's leafy north shore, its feet were firmly planted in northern Italy, Pavoni's home soil. Over the years, the menu roamed more broadly – it permabulated from Sicily through to Piedmont, and even crossed the Balearic Sea to Spain under the leadership of then-head chef (and now business partner) Victor Moya.
But strip the dégustation. Scrap the desserts. In fact, turn the whole thing on its head. Halfway through the boggling year that is 2020, Ormeggio is emerging with a new casual look and feel, and Pavoni is entrusting the kitchen in the hands of a next-gen chef. And we have COVID-19 to thank for this bold move.
Plans to redo Ormeggio had been on the cards since last year, but lockdown, unexpectedly, gave the gift of time. Pre-COVID, Pavoni anticipated the restaurant's makeover would be spread out over a few years – a two-week renovation here, a menu revamp there. "But this time we had two months, so we went bigger, more extensive, more detailed," he says.
So, the menu. If it had a manifesto, it would be "Ninety per cent seafood; most of that from New South Wales," to echo one Sydney community radio station. It starts with Sydney rock oysters, and dives into Murray cod territory (fillets, in a salt crust, with macadamia pesto). The yellowtail tuna are coming up, so you'll find them raw, crudo-style; crumbed, alla cotoletta; or whizzed into a tonnato that goes with the swordfish. The cured scallops, as found in the spaghetti, are from Fraser Island; the charcoal-grilled Moreton Bay bugs, Mooloolaba. Meat is out, and that celebrated dégustation has morphed into a "sharing menu".
"If you go to the south of Italy or to the water in Venice or Liguria, there's a lot of Italian restaurants that are seafood only. Here, all the Italian restaurants are 50-50 meat and fish," says Pavoni. Recalibrating to a seafood-majority menu just makes sense – after all, Ormeggio is surrounded on three sides by bay views. "I'm watching the water from the table of my restaurant, and I can't see cows." He evokes Sydney's seafood savant, Josh Niland of Saint Peter. "Josh does seafood-only in a very Australian way. We're doing it the Italian way."
Pavoni is highly enthused by the dolci, or what remains of it. It's a five-strong gelati-only zone here (save for the cheese plate), and it's Pavoni's pride and joy. The castagnaccio, a chestnut cake that hails from Tuscany, is remixed as a ricotta-chestnut gelato topped with caramelised pine nuts, roasted chestnuts and rosemary. The lemon gelato (made with Amalfi lemons, thank you very much) is shot through with candied rind; a scorched limoncello meringue is the crown. At Ormeggio 2.0 gelati is dolci, says Pavoni, because it's the greatest dessert of all time. "Usually you have a big meal, you skip dessert, and go out and have a gelato somewhere else. I just brought the gelato here, and fuck the desserts."
Like the menu, the dining room is lighter and brighter. A stucco painter from Pavoni's hometown, stuck in Sydney thanks to border restrictions, was commissioned to redo the bar. The heavy fabric seats have been replaced with rattan chairs, and the room's colour accents are light terracotta and dusty pinks, Puglia-style. "It's country on the ocean," says Pavoni.
But the changing of the guard is the biggest change of all. Rachele Perini has worked with Pavoni for a number of years, most recently at Newport's Sotta Sopra (Pavoni sold the restaurant last year) – the 24-year-old has been appointed Ormeggio's restaurant manager. Moya now oversees Ormeggio and its sister restaurant, Chiosco by Ormeggio, with 29-year-old Gianmarco Pardini moving up to the head-chef posting. The young chef has been with the restaurant for seven years, learning the ropes under Moya, and now it's his time to shine as Pavoni and Moya take a step back from the minutiae of the kitchen. "We need these younger people to come out and thrive and bring fresh ideas," says Pavoni. The Parma-born Pardini is a passionate advocate for his region, the home of prosciutto and Parmigiano-Reggiano. "I'm from Lombardy, and I'm a Grana Padano [guy]," says Pavoni. "He hates me."
The effect of COVID-19 has been gruelling on the restaurant industry, but Pavoni has spun potential disaster into opportunity. He credits his wife Anna Pavoni, Ormeggio's co-owner and business manager, for steering the restaurant through the worst of the crisis – "If it was anyone else, it's possible we could have been broke." Lockdown was – is – tough, but the Pavonis are tougher. "We looked at this as an opportunity to make Ormeggio new, to make it different, instead of crying every day," he says. "This has happened, but it's happened to everybody in the world. Let's see what we can do to be better afterwards. And here we are."
Ormeggio, D'Albora Marina The Spit, Spit Road Mosman, NSW, (02) 9969 4088, ormeggio.com.au
Open Fri–Sun from 11.30am (lunch), Thu–Sat from 5.30pm (dinner) and on Sunday for all-day dining.