For a restaurateur who once declared she'd never open a restaurant in the CBD again, Paola Toppi is making a bold move with Toppi Martin Place. The self-taught chef and scion of the family behind Machiavelli (the Toppi family sold the restaurant 2015) has just opened her Italian restaurant on the ground floor of the newly built Sixty Martin Place skyscraper in Sydney's central business district, and she's feeling apprehensive.
"There's a lot of good restaurants closing in Sydney. That certainly gives you pause," says Toppi, who co-owns the venture with husband Neil Cunningham. "You have to be 100 per cent sure of what you're doing."
It's a leap of faith, perhaps spurred by the restaurant's location next door to St Stephen's Uniting Church. "The theory is you'll have religion on one side of the wall, and the devil on the other," she jokes.
Toppi has settled on a restaurant formula that will likely attract nearby bankers, barristers and parliamentarians: a handsome, sleek design of the expansive 300-seat dining room by Steel + Stitch; and an open kitchen for diners to witness their pasta being cooked to order.
"It's almost like the cooking in Chinese restaurants – it's fast. This is true à la carte," says Toppi. She says she's assembled a crack team of chefs who, like the Toppi family, hail from Naples. "The food rivalry between north and south Italians is realm, and it gives me great solace to know that they're on the same culinary wavelength as me."
The opening menu includes antipasto of calamari fritti, secondi of scampi and spatchock, and a short and sharp pasta selection featuring tagliolini with blue swimmer crab, duck ravioli, and a tagliatelle sciué sciué with king prawns, tomato and basil, with the pasta all made by hand.
"We don't use pasta extruders – we only do traditional egg-yolk pasta, made by hand here," says Toppi. Her recipe contains 30 per cent protein to achieve the correct lightness and consistency to absorb the sauce. "If you do it correctly, it comes out like silk," she says.
She's has also secured a licence that will allow them to stay open until 2am. It's the sort of past-midnight trade that Toppi hopes will ensure the restaurant's longevity, as well as contribute to the city's night-time economy. She's hoping to emulate the build-it-and-they-will-come success of Justin Hemmes' hospitality empire Merivale – the group recently announced an expansion of their Ivy precinct in the CBD, including a spin-off of their Bondi eatery Totti's.
"Totti's, Toppi; we're probably going to get confused with them," she says. "But this is something the city hasn't seen in a long time."
Toppi Martin Place, 60 Martin Place, Sydney, (02) 8080 7765, toppi.com.au
Open Mon-Fri noon-late
Open Mon-Fri noon-late