Icon review: Beppi's

A retro tiramisu with white chocolate twirls and dots of coulis.
A retro tiramisu with white chocolate twirls and dots of coulis. Photo: Brook Mitchell

21 Yurong Street Darlinghurst, New South Wales 2010

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Opening hours Mon-Fri noon-3pm; Mon-Sat 6-11pm
Features Licensed, Bar, Vegetarian friendly, Gluten-free options, Wheelchair access, Private dining
Prices Moderate (mains $20-$40)
Seats 100
Payments Visa
Phone 02 9360 4558

The story of the late Beppi Polese, who passed away in March of 2016 at the age of 90, is one of the most loved in Sydney restaurant circles. But for those of you who do not know the full tale, it goes a little something like this.

After leaving home at 14, Polese worked his way up through the grand hotels of Rome, Milan, Florence and Venice (he once served Ernest Hemingway while working at the Gritti Palace after World War II, during which he had spent time in internment camps and, after escaping, engaged in guerilla warfare in the hills of Friuli) before moving to Australia to open Beppi's in 1956. It's been running on the same site in Darlinghurst since.

The only difference between then and now is that in the '50s, no one cooked with olive oil – Beppi would have to purchase it from the chemist – and if he wanted to cook with mussels, he would have to take his little boat out under Tom Ugly's Bridge and scrape them off the pylons himself.

Beppi's menu is a roll call of Italian favourites.
Beppi's menu is a roll call of Italian favourites. Photo: Brook Mitchell

The restaurant claims to be the longest running under the same ownership in Sydney "and we believe in Melbourne and possibly the whole of Australia". I'm not sure what Melbourne will have to say about that, but I'll certainly follow with interest.     

These days, the Darlinghurst restaurant is run by Beppi's son Marc. Little has changed. The leather-bound menus, which Beppi carved himself when the restaurant first opened, are still filled with a roll call of Italian favourites.

The cellar out the back, a cool and beautifully-lit treasure trove of dusty bottles with the dates of the vintages scrawled in thick felt pen, still holds untold treasure for those happy enough to open their wallets and have a go at it.

The cellar is a cool and beautifully lit treasure trove.
The cellar is a cool and beautifully lit treasure trove. Photo: Brook Mitchell

Chances are the well-turned out waiter silver-serving your radicchio salad and crisp zucchini flowers filled with ricotta and porcini mushroom has probably been working that floor longer than you've had hot bowls of casarecce. They hand make that here, by the way, the spinach version of the pasta served in thick twists, along with little pieces of eggplant, all bathed in garlicky sugo.  

Maybe you've had a more tender version of saltimbocca than this one. One where the white wine sauce is a little brighter. And maybe you've also had a lighter tiramisu – less dense, a little less retro with its white chocolate twirls and dots of coulis – but I'll bet it's been a long time between anyone serving you with this much attention to detail, friendliness and comfort. It shouldn't be revolutionary to walk into a restaurant and be treated with care, but in Sydney, it can be.

So with that, I welcome more love and less attitude – something you'll find in spades here.

Dusty bottles fill the cellar.
Dusty bottles fill the cellar. Photo: Brook Mitchell

Est: June 10, 1956

Famous diners: Frank Sinatra, Shirley Bassey, Neil Armstrong, Kerry Packer, P!nk, Geoffrey Rush, Billy Joel. But most importantly, Rihanna.

Go-to Dish: Beppi's saltimbocca di vitello ripieni di asiago, prosciutto e salvia ($39).

http://beppis.com.au/