This is a "back to business" story with a difference. In North Sydney, at least, workers are slowly drifting back to work in offices. The difference is that a lot of them are staying home on Mondays and Fridays, and heading into the office mid-week for two or three days.
So every weekend is a long weekend now, and Wednesday looks set to become the new Friday. It certainly is at Glorietta, a little ray of sunshine in the heart of North Sydney.
Small groups are sharing giant T-bone steaks and crusty pizzas, drinking beer and red wine, swapping war stories and catching up on workplace gossip. It reminds me of something long ago, something we lost, something – oh, that's right, what life used to be like.
Owner Aaron Crinis shifted his attention from Wollongong (Dagwood Bar and Kitchen, Diggies cafe) to open Glorietta in December. It was going great guns, until you-know-what came along. Like so many others, he launched an online takeaway, grocery and bottle shop, and scraped through. But now Glorietta is back, and with enough room to seat 80 inside and 50 outside, even with current restrictions.
The space is stunning, a double-height glass box lifted away from the banality of the street and fringed with greenery. Designers Alexander & Co have divided it into bar, kitchens and dining zones demarcated in timber, stone, concrete and rattan latticework.
The white igloo of the wood-fired pizza oven is the first thing you see, tended by pizzaiolo, Mauro Greco (Fusion 16, Frankie's Pizza). He's spinning everything from a traditional margherita, to a contemporary Riccardo of prawns, chilli, charred leeks and confit tomato on big, puffy, charred bases.
But hang on a sec, how can you put anchovy on just one of 12 pizzas? And that's the capricciosa (which nobody has ever really liked, surely?)
I go for the pancetta ($25) instead, which is good and crusty; slightly wet in the Neapolitan style, and topped with stretchy mozzarella, crisp smoked pancetta, black pepper, and chilli oil. A single, steamed egg yolk sits in the middle, for reasons unknown.
Head chef Alberto Facci's menu is Italian-led and business-friendly, starting with specials scrawled on the windows – oysters, pasta, and a 600-gram T-bone steak off the grill – and main courses of roast chicken and fish. Nothing too revolutionary, but all nicely done with a bit of detail worked in.
Antipasto ($24) of thinly sliced mortadella and sopressa salami, for instance, comes with a tumble of giardiniera (pickled vegetables) and slabs of grilled focaccia.
A mound of milky white La Stella burrata sits in a pond of tomato "consomme" ($12), the clear juices created by the slow drip, drip, of tomatoes overnight. It's sweetly acidic, a nice cut-through for the implosion of creaminess from the fresh cheese.
Paccheri ($24) sees those floppy tubes of Neapolitan pasta tossed in a pleasantly pink pomodoro sauce boosted with cognac and cream, and roast chicken ($34) is good to share, with an intense, vegetable-loaded gravy.
And I like that Glorietta proudly showcases Newtown's Mapo Gelato, because technically, it's a trillion times richer, smoother and fresher than your average gelato.
There's a lot to like, in fact. I like the bottle of chilli oil on every table, and the bar lined with bottles of Campari. I like the jolly red-topped tables, the striped cloth napkins, and the light filtering down through glass. I like that the wines seem well-matched to the flavours on the menu, particularly a clean, floral Inama Soave Classico ($15 glass), one of Italy's truly classic white wines.
I like the no-nonsense staff who keep up the momentum, the flexibility of the space, and the idea of meeting over post-work negronis on the terrace, with aperitivo running from 3pm to 6pm weekdays.
And I really, really, like that it makes everyone feel that we're getting back to normal.
Address Upper ground floor, 100 Mount Street, North Sydney, 02 9167 7499, glorietta.com.au
Open Mon noon-5pm, Tues-Fri noon-10pm, Sat 5pm-11.30pm, aperitivo Mon-Fri 3pm to 6pm
Dining window 90 minutes
Protocols Contact tracing, hand sanitiser and well-spaced tables.
Vegetarian Pasta, pizza, and enough starters and salads to build a meal around.
Drinks Classic cocktails include four different negronis, a dozen beers and a solid wine list of Italians and low-intervention labels.
Cost About $100 for two, plus drinks
Score Scoring is paused while the industry gets back on its feet.