Lola's Level 1 review

The dark timbers at Lola's Level 1 frame the changing light of Bondi outside.
The dark timbers at Lola's Level 1 frame the changing light of Bondi outside.  Photo: Edwina Pickles

180 Campbell Parade Bondi Beach, NSW 2026

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Opening hours Wed-Sun noon-10pm
Prices Moderate (mains $20-$40)
Phone 02 8294 0927

Lola's is the sort of place that makes you fall in love with restaurants all over again. Which is rather good timing, given that we can.

If it feels cosily familiar, it's because it is run by Marco Ambrosino (Fratelli Paradiso, 10 William), and Manny Spinola of the Grand Pacific Group (The Tea Room, Gunner's Barracks).

Most restaurateurs who move to Bondi embrace the light and go all boho or Scandinavian. Lola's has moved effortlessly into the old Panama House first level site and immediately gone dark. It creates a very pleasing effect, the dark timber floors, tables, chairs and long bar contrasting and framing the changing light and palm trees outside.

The lasagnetta is all saucy, shreddy ossobuco in rings of crisped pasta.
The lasagnetta is all saucy, shreddy ossobuco in rings of crisped pasta. Photo: Edwina Pickles

Also installed is the confident, flavour-first Mediterranean cooking of talented Argentinian-born chef Paola Pantano, who brings the refinement and detail of a hotel fine-dining background with her.

Her menu riffs happily between Spain and Italy, kicking off with Marcona almonds, Cantabric anchovies, and Arbequina and Cuquillo olives. 

It's not huge, but it covers all the bases, with piri piri corn-fed chicken, Angus hanger steak with chimichurri, and semolina spaghetti with gambaretti (small prawns) bagna cauda and breadcrumbs.

Each element of the fritto misto is distinct.
Each element of the fritto misto is distinct.  Photo: Edwina Pickles

See what she did there? There's light and shade, as proteins get a little push along with spice or salsa, and carbs get sweetness and texture built in.

Oysters seem like the right thing to do, and the Sydney rocks from Wagonga on NSW's South Coast are either dark with sherry vinegar mignonette, or icy cold with vermouth granita ($6.50). The former coddles their briny sweetness, the latter plumps them up. Both are recommended.

Pan tumaca is the perfect foil, a slab of Pioik Bakery sourdough toast smothered with fresh tomato ($15), which you can, and should, have paved with hand-sliced jamon iberico for an extra $15.

Every meal at Lola's should include a skewer threaded with finely sliced and spiced lamb.
Every meal at Lola's should include a skewer threaded with finely sliced and spiced lamb. Photo: Edwina Pickles

Cachaca, pisco and habanero feature on the cocktail list as much as Campari and vermouth, and manager Luca Capecchi and sommeliers Louis West and Mon Ditbunjong are all well versed in the language of craft spirits and Mediterranean-friendly wines.

A clever roll of lasagnetta ($29) looks like rotolo; all saucy, shreddy ossobuco in rings of crisped pasta. Again, there's more going on than at first bite, with a wondrous sauce that is actually pureed saffron risotto and splodges of bright green gremolata that amplify the ossobuco alla Milanese effect.

It's also the right moment for a bold and juicy Valpolicella, like the 2017 L'Arco Rosso Del Veronese ($95).

Pan tumaca (sourdough toast smothered with fresh tomato) and jamon iberico.
Pan tumaca (sourdough toast smothered with fresh tomato) and jamon iberico.  Photo: Edwina Pickles

All hail the fritto misto ($32) for not being the usual collection of deep-fried anonymity. The prawns, squid, meaty NZ monkfish (stargazer) and zucchini are distinct, with pickled piparras (guindilla) peppers scattered throughout and forming a bright and lively emulsion on the side. 

And can I just say that every meal at Lola's should include a skewer threaded with finely sliced and spiced lamb ($15 each), marinated in Meredith goat's milk and served with a yoghurty goat's curd and house-pickled cucumbers.

To finish, wattleseed ricotta cannoli ($6) lures like a siren, a crisp, nutty tunnel filled with cream that has been perked up with candied yuzu and chips of Peruvian chocolate.

Wattleseed ricotta cannoli, a crisp, nutty tunnel filled with cream.
Wattleseed ricotta cannoli, a crisp, nutty tunnel filled with cream. Photo: Edwina Pickles

The Euro disco music, the small oval plates, the tiny forks for the oysters, the metallic-framed tables, the soft linen napkins, the way they twist a negroni into a Rosita with a floral tequila instead of gin – all these things make Lola's the right place at the right time. 

But don't take my word for it. Ask the three women who stopped by my table on their way out. "We know where you live," says one. "And you had better give this place a good score," adds another.

In fear for my life, I immediately resolve to give Lola's a good score. Just as well they said something.

The low-down

Lola's Level 1

Drinks Serious cocktail action, Estrella beer on tap, and a Spanish/Italian wine list that goes from apres-beach to seriously nerdy.

Vegetarian Seven small and three large plates, with more options coming.

Pro tip On a sunny day, bags a table on the terrace.

https://lolaslevel1.com.au/