Maurice Terzini is coming home. The Melbourne-born restaurateur behind iconic Bondi restaurant Icebergs Dining Room and Bar is opening a Melbourne restaurant for the first time in more than a decade, alongside son Sylvester Terzini and Sicilian chef-restaurateur Joseph Vargetto of Mister Bianco and Massi.
The trio’s upcoming Italian restaurant will be called Cucina Povera Vino Vero, and promises a relaxed, unfussy experience inspired by Italian migrants who came to Australia between the 1950s and ‘70s.
“I think we’ve come full circle. We’ve both done high-end restaurants and different styles [of eateries], but there was one underlying thing between both of us: this experience of growing up Italian and cooking in kitchens, but most of the stuff was [prepared] outside in the garage,” Vargetto tells Broadsheet.
When Vargetto’s Sicilian parents first moved to Australia, there was no ricotta, semolina, cured sausage, jarred sugo or even good wine. His mother would grind wheat down to make semolina herself for fresh pasta; they would buy a pig to be raised at a friend’s farm and make the sausages themselves; and he once came home to find his parents making wine – all in their garage.
“The things that were created in those garages were fundamental to the growth of our food industry, and sometimes we feel there isn’t enough respect paid to those years,” Maurice says.
He’s spent decades transforming Sydney’s dining scene with his forward-thinking approach to design and ambience and, over the years, has spearheaded a number of ambitious projects and restaurants. At the moment, aside from Icebergs, Maurice also owns two Italian restaurants, Cicciabella in Bondi and in Parramatta, and has a stake in pioneering sustainability bar Re–, run by Matt Whiley (who is also behind acclaimed London bar Scout).
But his roots have always been in Melbourne. He was born in the Victorian capital and his first-ever venue was Caffe e Cucina on Chapel Street in South Yarra, followed by Il Bacaro and Melbourne Wine Room. His last Melbourne venture – Giuseppe, Arnaldo & Sons at Crown Casino – closed eight years ago.
“Melbourne’s always on my mind and I always try to look at what’s different, what’s happening in Melbourne. I’ve got some great relationships there and [have talked] about coming back, but talking to Joe made it very easy for me to get it across the line,” he says.
Massi on Little Collins Street will close to make way for the new restaurant, Cucina Povera; construction on the new fit-out by design studio Latitude starts next week. The heavy timber throughout the space is being replaced with a simple, grey aesthetic that’s more modern (with a slight brutalist touch).
Vargetto’s menu will work with the seasons. Expect late spring ingredients – if the venue can open in late November, as estimated – or plenty of peaches and grilled dishes if it’s delayed until December. There’ll also be southern Italian staples such as cavatelli and mussels, and traditional techniques like slow-cooking, fermentation and jarring.
Sylvester Terzini has been working with his father for close to 15 years; here he’ll be leading the front-of-house team, but expect Maurice and grandfather Arnaldo to take the floor, too.
“I started my career with my father as the maitre’d and he’s always participated in every gig I’ve been involved in, in some way or another,” Maurice says. “For the three of us to come together as three generations, all on the floor together at any one time, even if it’s only for one night, will probably be one of the most important moments of my career.”
Cucina Povera Vino Vero is slated to open later this year at 445 Little Collins Street, Melbourne.