75-79 Hall St Bondi Beach, NSW 2026
|Opening hours||Mon-Fri from 5pm; Sat-Sun from noon|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
|Phone||02 8090 6969|
The artichoke ($10) comes unadorned and upright, like two hands clasped in prayer, simply boiled and stripped back to its softer, inner core.
But when you pull the leaves outwards – not easy to do with those thorny little tips – it opens like a lily on a pond, each leaf ready to swish through the lush bonito mayonnaise and scrape against your teeth.
It's a dish that goes from "is that all there is?" to "this is what food is all about" in 10 seconds. A clumsy metaphor, if you will, for CicciaBella itself, the newest offering from Mr Icebergs, Maurice Terzini.
The Bondi restaurant whisperer closed his light, sunny Da Orazio Pizza + Porchetta and worked with Melbourne architects Herbert & Mason to give the semi-basement room an anti-Bondi makeover that's all dark and moody, reminiscent of Caffe e Cucina, Terzini's first Melbourne opening way back when.
Speaking of dark and moody, former ACME chef Mitch Orr is in the kitchen, quietly applying his considerable smarts to a cooking style best known as umami-by-the-sea.
There's method in his madness, inserting Japanese flavour bombs of seaweed, mirin, dashi, rice vinegar and white soy onto blank canvases of house-made pasta and pizza, made with Bellata Gold semolina and Caputo doppio zero flour.
So linguine ($22) gets its umami from oven-blistered cherry tomatoes and shaved bottarga (dried mullet roe), with a little dashi broth for good measure. It's like spaghetti al pomodoro, only more so, ruthlessly reduced to its essence.
Malloreddus ($26) sees the small Sardinian pasta enriched with blue swimmer crab and buttery juices under a dusting of dried green wakame; again, its flavours reduced and intensified.
Orr and former Bella Brutta pizzaiolo Mitchell Westwood have developed a well-leavened, elastic, mid-sized pizza base, pushed hard in the oven until tattooed with scorch marks.
Best is the puttanesca ($12), with its San Marzano tomatoes, oregano, olives, Cantabrian anchovies and a touch of chilli – an earthy mix that works as well on pizza as it does with pasta.
The hand-shaped baby calzone ($5), oozing with mozzarella and mortadella, is the best friend your opening spritz could find.
Some dishes are cheeky, like an effortless antipasto of broad beans mixed with edamame ($8), or a bright-as-a-button strawberry and tomato salad ($12) with a sharp, fruity dressing of sherry vinegar, verjus, olive oil and Thai basil.
Manager Dave Owen has a friendly way of keeping things moving, and sommelier James Hird sheds light on dark varietal subjects with helpful subtitles on the oversized, crumpled laminated wine list.
The Cascina Val del Prete Luet arneis from Piedmont ($14/$84), for instance, is captioned "think pinot grigio in a velvet tuxedo".
Dining here is more about meeting up over a glass of wine and small dishes of antipasti than major feasting, with even main courses being single-ingredient.
Of the three mains – along with whole roast fish and Riverina angus flank – the pork chop ($28) is a surprise hit; pan-roasted, rested, sliced and sent out with the bone, bistecca-style. A buttery sauce made with the pan juices is ridiculously moreish.
Coconut, mango and macadamia semifreddo ($12) is non-essential.
We've come to expect energy, nostalgia and scrupulous hospitality from Terzini, and well-fused Asian/Italian food from Orr.
Putting them together in a cool-kids trattoria, however, just shifted something in the space/time continuum of casual beachside dining.
Vegetarian: Heaps of options – four starters, two pizzas, two pastas, four sides.
Drinks: Distinctive cocktails, four house wines and a cultishly natural list of mostly Italian wines sourced by sommelier James Hird.
Go-to dish: Malloreddus, blue swimmer crab, preserved lemon butter, $26.
Pro tip: House wines (Italian and Australian) are easy-drinking value at $9 glass and $43 bottle.