Vincent Lombino and Jared Thibault are talking about their new Italian restaurant, Sasso Italiano. But really, they’re talking about a vision.
It’s a dining precinct at the South City Square development in Woolloongabba, with Sasso Italiano the first in a wave of new venues. Later will come wine shop South City Wine Store and Chinese-Latin fusion restaurant Casa Chow. They’ll then be followed by a gin bar, a brewpub and a Mad Men-inspired chophouse.
Lombino and Thibault, it turns out, are terrific storytellers.
“We can offer something really different,” Lombino says. “You come, you walk in, you sit at the wine bar, we shout you a prosecco. Then maybe we walk you through the kitchen, make you feel special – and bang! – we pop through into the restaurant, there’s your table.”
South City Square’s restaurants and bars will mimic the multi-faceted food and beverage offerings of the experiential hotel chains in which Lombino and Thibault mastered their craft – Noble House in the US, and QT and Ovolo here in Australia – but for the first time, they’re free of the layers of stakeholders that come with designing venues for bigger companies. Instead they can simply focus on a genuine style of hospitality, beginning with this week’s opening of Sasso Italiano.
“It’s like going into a giant warehouse with canvases to the left and right, an endless supply of paint, and all the time in the world,” Lombino says. “You put on some headphones and just paint. And it feels good. It feels so good.”
Everything has been thought through at Sasso, from the Natasha Gan-designed uniforms to the paintings on the walls from Melbourne artist Libby Haines. The rest of the venue has been built with plenty of timber and glass, curved entry ways, marble countertops and crazy paver floors. The lighting is dimmed just so; the music, Italian disco-inspired throwbacks curated by former QT music director Andrew Lewis.
“We want our people to be chilling out, having a good time,” Lombino says. “If you’re having fun, you’re giving our guests an amazing experience. If you need us to run down to the store to get a diet caffeine-free Dr Pepper – if that’s what you drink, we’re gonna do it. That’s what we want to be. Know you by name, know what you eat and drink. Recognise you. Appreciate you.”
Border restrictions kiboshed the original plan for Sydney-based Ivan Castaneda to lead the kitchen, but Lombino and Thibault have landed on the feet with former La Lupa chef Gabriele Di Landri, who came up in Sydney at Aria, Chiswick and The Dolphin Hotel. He’s preparing an efficient menu of crudo, antipasti, mains, pizza and pasta, with everything designed to be shared. You might start with steamed mussels, burrata with wakame and capers, or confit octopus with kipflers, nduja pesto and watercress. For mains, there’s pork cotoletta, dry-aged hangar steak with marrow butter and summer herbs, and whole-roasted market-fresh fish with sorrel and burnt lemon.
Pastas include classics such as rigatoni amatriciana, cacio e pepe and a linguini marinara, but there’s also a taglioni al nero with calamari and bottarga, and a house-made raviolone with ricotta, burnt butter and asparagus that oozes egg yolk when sliced in two. Elsewhere, a rotating Marana Forni woodfired oven is firing out classic margherita, salsiccia, diavola prosciutto and capricciosa pizzas, along with a fabulous puffed house bread.
For drinks, Thibault has put together an 80-bottle Italian-focused wine list, and a Negroni menu that includes Birthday Negronis, with vintage gins, vermouths and Campari sourced from every decade back to the 1960s. There’s also a house Italian lager brewed especially for Sasso by Aether Brewing.
“It’s about attention to detail and working with great partners,” Thibault says. “But we’re also focusing on Australian ingredients. So we’ll be using a lot of great Australian amaros, vermouths and so on.”
Most of all, Sasso Italiano reflects Lombino and Thibault themselves – from Graziano’s, a pizza restaurant east of Los Angeles, where a 13-year-old Lombino started out bussing tables, right through to Gowings Bar & Grill at QT Sydney and Za Za Ta at Ovolo The Valley – venues that the duo were instrumental in designing.
“Everything we do is a culmination of the neighbourhood places we grew up with, restaurants we worked on in the States and Australia,” Lombino says. “You always thought, ‘What would you want it to look like when you get to do it yourself? How big will it be? What are some of the finishes?’
“To be able to design everything about this venue, from the music to the lighting, everything – it’s been really fun.”
Sasso Italiano opens this Thursday November 18.
4/148 Logan Road, Woolloongabba
Tue to Fri 5pm–10pm
Sat 12pm–3pm, 5pm–10pm