So what's Raymond Capaldi up to next? The question that was on Melbourne's lips when the Scottish-Italian chef closed the Hare & Grace at the Rialto early this month has been answered with news that his Rialto connections are taking him to South Yarra, where he's teaming up with Remo Nicolini at his Chapel Street pizzeria, A25.
The pair met when Nicolini was running Espressino at the Rialto, where Capaldi opened the forward-thinking Hare & Grace in 2010. The Joost Bakker-designed restaurant closed last month ahead of a food-driven redevelopment of the tower's forecourt announced by St Martins and Grollo groups.
While Capaldi signalled that the closing of Hare & Grace was also the end of his career as a hands-on chef running his own restaurants (his past accomplishments include Richmond's avant-garde Fenix and Fitzroy North café Marmalade & Soul), A25 represents something of a test-run for an ongoing partnership with Nicolini. The pair plan to open an Italian restaurant in the city "like an Italian Cumulus Inc", says Nicolini. To be named Primo Manifesto, in honour of Italian poet Filippo Marinetti's "Manifesto of Futurism", the menu will feature Capaldi experiments such as chinotto-braised lamb ribs, burnt-eggplant linguine and a pasta-free onion "carbonara".
"We've been offered a really good site at Southbank," says Nicolini, who is also on the lookout for a city haunt for another A25. "The Rialto was a small possibility but the lack of outdoor space would be a problem."
Capaldi's envelope-pushing food - he gave the world dishes such as an Eton mess of oysters, horseradish cream, passionfruit and beetroot meringue - might seem at odds with the largely doctrinaire world of pizza-making, but Nicolini, founder of Little Bourke Street's +39 and St Kilda's Itali.co and current owner of Docklands' Non Solo Pasta, is no stranger to experimentation. The present A25 menu includes the LSD pizza, featuring Berkshire sausage, cream of dates, liquorice dust, pecorino and radicchio, as well as a squid-ink pizza with a black-stained base. Stoking his mad-scientist reputation, Capaldi calls his approach to A25 "traderne" - traditional Italian taken in a new direction, as with the savoury bomboloni with beef ragù and pork floss that appeared on his new menu at the beginning of this week.
A25 Pizzeria, 720 Chapel St, South Yarra, Vic, (03) 9826 2233