The lesson is this: never underestimate the pain of opening a restaurant, no matter how small. Because even with just 38 seats inside (and another 10 outside), readying the pocket-sized Ragazzi was a ring of fire for co-owners Nathanial Hatwell, Matthew Swieboda and Scott Williams.
"You think it's quick and easy, being a small space, but it's the same amount of work [as a large restaurant]," says Williams, who's also head chef. "Probably harder, because you can only have so many tradies onsite."
But after the rigmarole of council paperwork, delayed construction, and the necessary dismantling of the ceiling (the ceiling!), Ragazzi is open.
There are similarities to its predecessors Love, Tilly Devine and Dear Sainte Éloise: a laneway location just off the main street for a snack and a glass of wine, or to linger the whole night. But where Dear Sainte Éloise leans French and Love, Tilly Devine swings Australian (there's even a Japanese-ish Vegemite toast on the menu), Ragazzi is all about Italy.
Williams, formerly of nearby Bacco Osteria, produces fresh pasta in-house for an ever-changing menu that draws inspiration from across Italy. A Roman cacio e pepe with a very Abruzzo spaghetti alla chitarra? A goat ragù with the pappardelle of Tuscany? They might be on the menu for a few weeks longer, though the agnolotti dal plin with asparagus in brodo will not (white asparagus are here for a good time, not a long time).
There's snacks too, which, thanks to Williams's experience cooking in Madrid, Barcelona and restaurant MoVida, carry a Spanish-Italian bent: croquettes, Cantabrian anchovies on toast, pasta fritta.
Somehow, somewhere, he's made space in the kitchen to bring in a whole free-range Tathra Place pig once a week. The beast is broken down onsite and used throughout the menu: the belly in the pork and Taleggio croquettes; the neck in sausage for the cavatelli; the cutlets in the primi of pork cotoletta.
And then there's that 300-strong list of mostly Italian wines divided into the north, central and southern parts of the boot-shaped country, with a focus on lesser-known makers who've been producing wines for generations. Swieboda cites Montenidoli wines in Tuscany, who released their first vintage in 1971. "The winemaker, Elisabetta Fagioli, makes wine without any chemicals or in the vineyard forever because that's the way her grandfather made it," he says. "That kind of idea for me is really interesting. They're the people we want to champion."
With its modest seating capacity, Ragazzi – the colloquial Italian word for "mate" – is meant to be a neighbourly restaurant in the heart of the city. "In the CBD, there are lots of places you can go to spend a lot of money on big and brash establishments. We're trying to create something that's a little more personal," says Swieboda.
And despite the initial delays, on a broader scale they've nailed the timing of the opening. The light rail on George Street is nearing completion, and there's talk of relaxing the city's lockout laws; winter, a notorious time for the hospitality industry, is over, and the promise of sun and summer is around the corner.
Has there been a more exciting time for a wine bar to open in the CBD? Judging by their successful first week, Ragazzi is going to be the new friend that Sydney welcomes with open arms.