Taste of the zoo: The new Taronga Piazza. Photo: Edwina Pickles
What's in a name?
The cafe at Taronga Zoo's swanky new timber-clad entrance, which has created a public courtyard inside the historic gates, is branded Taronga Piazza inspired by Giovanni Pilu.
I'm excited: a new cafe at the zoo, one of my children's favourite places, with food by Giovanni Pilu, one of my favourite chefs. His classy but relaxed eatery on Freshwater Beach is one of our all-time favourite destinations for special family meals.
Classic: lasagne and salad. Photo: Edwina Pickles
We arrive on a crisp Sunday as the zoo's early shift - exhausted toddlers and their parents - is going home for lunch.
The cafe overlooking an enclosure with red tree kangaroos, is smaller than I expected, with Pret-a-Manger food displayed behind a glass counter, two communal tables inside and smaller ones on the deck.
I ask a waiter where we sit for table service. ''Sit anywhere, someone will come,'' he replied. Five minutes later no one had, so I asked another for menus. There were none, I was told, nor was there any table service, and we should order and pay at the counter.
The handwritten menu includes two sandwiches and two salads, plus warm pies and sausage rolls and lasagne in a large dish, made to Pilu's recipes I'm told later. We order, including cannoli from the extensive selection of cakes, and settle on a table outside. (The waiter will bring food to the table, we're assured.) It's slightly chilly and we toy with the idea of moving inside, but Archie advises against it. ''The waiters will just get more confused than they already are,'' he says.
The cannoli are brought to the table before anything else. I ask if the waiter would mind taking them back till the kids have eaten their savoury dishes, and he's happy to oblige.
My husband's pulled pork sandwich with mustard, fennel and aioli is dry and uninspiring - a far cry from the suckling pig Pilu is famous for - traits it shares with Lulu's pork and fennel sausage roll.
My roast vegetable and goat's curd salad is long on eggplant and zucchini, with just three small cubes of red capsicum for variation, and very short on curd - about a teaspoon crumbled on top. It would have had more flavour if it hadn't been served so cold. Archie's lasagne is a good, if not spectacular, version of the classic.
I associate Pilu with quality food; that's not what was delivered at the cafe that bears his name on the day I was there. In my opinion this branding exercise - by Restaurant Associates who run the zoo's function business - fell short of what the Pilu name stands for and may be a missed opportunity for the Sardinian chef to lure the Mosmanites and other zoo visitors to his flagship northern beaches restaurant.
The situation is summed up when I ask the woman on the till if she works for Giovanni Pilu. She looks at me quizzically and replies, ''Who?''
Do … come for breakfast or Lavazza coffee and cakes (most made on the premises).
Don't … worry, you can visit without entering the zoo (park for 90 minutes free of charge)
Dish … lasagne and salad
Vibe … feeding time at the zoo
- Cuisine - Italian
- Prices - Breakfast dishes $5.50-$9.50, sandwiches and salads $12.50-$13.50, lasagne $14.50, sausage rolls and pies $6- $6.50, cakes $4.50-$6.50
- Features - Cheap and cheerful, Family friendly, Outdoor seating
- Owners - Giovanni Pilu
- Opening Hours - 9.30am-4.30pm, May to August; 9.30-5pm, September to April
- Author - Sally Webb