The food is Ital­ian-ish, with swag­ger. DAVID MATTHEWS finds Don Pep­pino’s god­fa­thers write their own rules.

Gourmet Traveller (Australia) - - Contents -

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.

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