Restaurant Reviews

Pilu at Freshwater

As it sails into its third decade, this northern beaches benchmark furthers the argument that old school is the best school, writes MATTY HIRSCH.
Pilu at Freshwater Sydney restaurant review
On the beach, Moore Rd, Freshwater, NSW

So much has been written about the suckling pig at Pilu that it almost doesn’t bear repeating. Then, out it comes: a brick of meat practically waxy with richness, capped by a swarthy sheet of salty crackling that takes some muscle to puncture. It’s a signature dish still wholly deserving of its place on the refreshingly short and straightforward menu, one it has occupied for all of the restaurant’s staggering 20-year lifespan.

You could say that signatures have become something of a signature inside this stately weatherboard house. Those impeccably crimped and supple pasta pockets known as culurgiones, often stuffed with potatoes, goat’s milk ricotta and what’s at the height of the season, lightly sauced in pecorino cream. The fregola, rolled by hand and toasted in a wood oven, which lend their pebbly texture to an endless stream of foolproof combinations, such as Moreton Bay bugs, tomato and chilli or Jerusalem artichokes and sharp, smoky Fiore Sardo cheese.

All these undying warhorses might signal that not much has changed since 2004 – and maybe it hasn’t. Then again, maybe it hasn’t had to. Sardinian owner-chef Giovanni Pilu and his wife Marilyn Annecchini struck the right chord from the start, interpreting the food of his birthplace in a highly refined yet unflashy fashion that’s proven unshakeably relevant, especially as region-specific cooking has moved further into the mainstream. That the kitchen’s focus has remained airtight, the ideas just as honed, the execution just as polished, is a major coup.

It would be short-sighted, of course, to credit the cooking alone for such a track record. Here, perfectly roasted goldband snapper fringed by crunchy greens and hibachi-grilled squid feels just that little bit more special because it’s portioned between separate plates if you elect to share. A glass of stony, slightly floral vermentino di Gallura carries that extra sense of gravitas by dint of being poured tableside from a shapely Brian Hirst decanter. Service touches like this may be a critically endangered species around dining rooms these days, but they’re second nature in this one.

And so they should be. When you’re blessed with such a blue-chip beachfront address, it’d be mad not to do it justice by going the extra mile from all angles. The team seizes those opportunities at nearly every turn, whether it’s curing (and selling) the brilliant house bottarga, keeping the cellar stocked with more Sardinian labels than anywhere else, or simply ensuring you return from the loo to find your serviette neatly folded. Longevity in hospitality isn’t unlike respect: something earned rather than given. Pilu persists by making that distinction clear.


Culurzones dish at Pilu at Freshwater

Culurzones at Pilu at Freshwater

Pilu at Freshwater
On the beach, Moore Rd, Freshwater, NSW
Giovanni Pilu & Federico Porceddu
Price Guide
Opening Hours
Lunch Wed-Sun; Dinner Wed-Sat
Ageing gracefully

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