In the present COVID world, no idea is too whacky. Which is how Ria Pizza and Wine, a pizzeria by Bentley Group's Brent Savage and Nick Hildebrandt (Bentley Restaurant and Bar, Monopole, Yellow, Cirrus), has fast become reality.
"We both love pizza, and have joked that we should open a pizza place," says Savage. "It made even more sense, after we got shut down [in the March lockdown], to have something that could be done takeaway."
Last month, the pair revealed they were moving Monopole, their wine-bar-restaurant in Sydney's Potts Point, to the CBD. Ria (short for "pizzeria", by the way) will slide into the former Monopole site, though Savage is tight-lipped about what the final result will look like. "We have some crazy ideas out there."
Are the pizza wars as hotly contested as the culture wars? On one hand, there are the woodfire-oven purists for which only a blistered base, wrought from log-flames, will do. On the other hand, there are those who think electric deck ovens – where the pizzas are cooked via induction heat on stacked shelves – do the job just as well. Savage is on the latter team.
"Don't get me wrong. Wood-fired pizza is incredible, but deck ovens allow for more consistent results," says Savage. "Plus, we don't have room for storing wood here."
The final menu will be a short, sharp, ever-changing roster of "Australian"-style pizza. Toppings will align with the Bentley Group modern-casual food offering: octopus and green-chilli salsa, perhaps, or seafood bugs and XO sauce .
Vegetable-forward toppings are top of mind too – unsurprising, really, for a restaurant group that converted its Yellow restaurant into an all-vegetarian establishment back in 2016. A zucchini, feta, pesto and mint number was one of the first toppings dreamed up by Savage. "It comes so naturally to us. Vegetables can't be ignored."
And neither can the wine. As with all Bentley Group venues, Hildebrandt, group sommelier and Savage's partner-in-wine, is working on a drinks list that will feature some of his favourite producers.
But for the meantime, Savage is focusing on the basics – the sourdough pizza base, that is. It won't be a Vera Pizza Napoletana-approved Napoli base, nor take from the floppy New York pizza playbook. "A crisp bottom and crust – that's my priority right now," says Savage.
He and the kitchen team are playing around flours of the Italian, Australian, stone-ground and milled variety, and experimenting with fermentation times, with the dough fermenting for anywhere between 48 and 60 hours. The theory goes the longer the fermentation, the better the dough digests. "When you're eating pizza, you can feel overly full and bloated. We're trying to avoid that."
It's an important project, seeing as Savage is putting his body on the line in the name of a good slice. The team is trialling five doughs at time, which means five pizzas to consume for every taste-testing session.
It's lucky Savage's love of pizza – the very reason for Ria's inception – is driving his pursuit of perfection. "Now in Australia if you can make great pizza, people have a lot more respect for it than ever before," he says. "And we're really passionate about serving good pizza."
Monopole Potts Point will close in late September, and Ria Pizza and Wine is set to open in early November.
71 Macleay St, Potts Point, NSW, 2011, (02) 8214 0505, riapizza.com.au