At a glance, opening an entirely vegan Italian trattoria – where pasta, gnocchi and tiramisù receive the plant-based treatment – is a challenging undertaking in itself.
Setting up the operation in Sydney's Bondi and keeping things affordable? Masochism, surely.
But a pair of restauranteurs has done just that, establishing all-vegan pasta joint Peppe's in Bondi, which has already gathered a loyal following in just a few months.
Peppe's is the Rome-inspired creation of Grace Watson and Joe Pagliaro, who are also behind Sydney vegan staples Paperbark and Joe's Sandwich Bar. And despite typical pasta ingredients such as cream and eggs, the pair insist that "Italian" and "vegan" belong in the same sentence.
"Picturing Italian food dripping in meat and cheese is a very Americanised version," Watson says. "Every time we go to Italy we have amazing pasta dishes that are refined yet rustic. Let's not forget that capers, olives, chilli, lemon, olive oil and red wine are all vegan."
At Peppe's, chef Joel Bennetts (ex-Three Blue Ducks) relies on the vibrancy of fresh, seasonal ingredients to build flavour.
"Each of his dishes is simple but has depth," Watson says. "Joel is an artist. He expresses it at Peppe's through beautiful and textural food."
At the heart of Bennetts's concise menu – written in chalk on one wall, with an equally tight (and vegan) wine list on another – is the house gnocchi. It might come tossed in a rich pomodoro sauce with capers and basil, say, or with a vibrant pesto with peas. Watson calls it "the ultimate comfort food," and Pagliaro says that the combination of flour and potato perfectly represents his Italian and Watson's Irish heritages.
As for keeping things reasonably priced (a plate of gnocchi will set you back $22, a fairly reasonable price tag for Sydney standards), the couple says it's part of the package.
"Vegan and affordable should always go together," Pagliaro says. "Think about the cost involved in raising a cow compared to growing beans."
"We want it to be the kind of place people come once a week instead of just on a special occasion," Watson adds. "We want to see the same faces coming back again and again, and keeping the price down can help to achieve the kind of community we want."
And judging by the lines outside Peppe's on any given trading night, it's the kind of restaurant that the community wants, too.
Peppe's, 261 Bondi Road, Bondi, NSW; Wed–Mon, 5pm–9.30pm (no reservations); peppelovesgnocchi.com.au