The food is Italian-ish, with swagger. DAVID MATTHEWS finds Don Peppino’s godfathers write their own rules.
The food at Don Peppino’s is Italian-ish, with swagger.
Speaking as someone who never went to the Grand Pacific Blue Room, all I have is questions. Were there always this many stairs when it was a club? Flights and flights of them, turning up and around past what should surely be a whole other level. Did the neon always pulse so hypnotically?
Was the cappuccino of white beans with truffle oil on the restaurant menu any good, or was that just a ’90s thing?
Full Circle, the collective that, in its current form, comprises floor manager Tom Merryweather and chefs Daniel Johnston and Harry Levy, are running the place – and they sure know how to pick a venue.
For Don Peppino’s, they’ve scraped the patina of cigarette smoke and spilt Daiquiris off the walls of the old Oxford Street nightclub, scattered a few eucalyptus branches around, and called it done. The burners are firing again in the kitchen that supplied the Blue Room’s restaurant, but otherwise it’s bare bones and Tupac Shakur posters in the toilets.
Wilmer, their last outing, was a sunny alfresco situation in Potts Point, so this might seem something of a regression. Don Peppino’s is more in line with the condemned-studio chic the Circle rocked at The Eat In in Chippendale, perhaps, or the fading-Italian-dynasty vibe they gave off at run-down trattoria Alfio’s in Leichhardt than a true step forward.
But how else to describe the warm bread rolls filled with caramelised garlic butter shot through with marjoram other than forward-thinking? Or fat fingers of pane fritto shipping a strip of tomato sugo and a single Ortiz anchovy? Good with a Spritz might be another way. You could do worse than sit at the bar, which runs under big arched windows that let the light in, and order these. It’s a chance, at least, to take in the Deco design, and recall a time when the club was jumpin’.
Pop-up or not, Don Peppino’s is Full Circle’s most complete restaurant yet. It’s the culmination of a steady evolution in skill and a growing confidence in their own style. These are people who have form running places that only offered set menus, didn’t take cards, and took bookings only by text. Who cast off established restaurant trappings, preferring instead to focus on food, wine and good times. Don Peppino’s feels the same, a bit underground, a little raw. But now the team has quietly slipped in all those restaurant things it used to avoid, and that focus is sharper than ever.
It shows in the execution. Whole river trout, skinned and boned except for the head and tail, is roasted just to the point of being set. The brown butter and almonds saucing it are taken as far as they can be without burning, giving the dish a nuttiness and depth that’s kept in check with suprêmes of lemon.
Is trout amandine Italian? Not really. But the Don makes his own rules: salsa d’anatra, the peppery
Left (from left): Daniel Johnston, Tom Merryweather and Harry Levy. Right: pane fritto with anchovy, ricotta with peperonata, garlic bread.