Peppe's review

Potato gnocchi with tomato sugo and deep-fried capers.
Potato gnocchi with tomato sugo and deep-fried capers. Photo: Wolter Peeters

261 Bondi Rd Bondi, NSW 2026

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Opening hours Wed-Mon 5pm-9.30pm
Features Licensed
Prices Moderate (mains $20-$40)

The puds at Peppe's in Bondi are tiramisu and panna cotta, both of which I have had 4000 times in my life. But that's not the point, is it? I'm not vegan. People who don't eat dairy or eggs have probably never had tiramisu or panna cotta.

They must feel liberated by the fact that good chefs are now turning their skills to recreate the sort of food the rest of us have been stuffing in our faces for years on end.

But how, you might wonder, do you make vegan tiramisu? I did, so I asked. Co-owner Grace Watson's clever recipe calls for sponge cake – made with soy milk, self-raising flour, sugar and vegetable oil – which is soaked in espresso syrup. The cream is made up of soaked cashews, coconut cream, maple syrup, espresso and vanilla, and the tiramisu ($12) is finished with dark cocoa powder and 78 per cent chocolate.

Arancini, deep-fried risotto balls loaded with parsley and lemon zest.
Arancini, deep-fried risotto balls loaded with parsley and lemon zest. Photo: Wolter Peeters

It may not have that pillowy, creamy ripeness of the traditional mascarpone-based tiramisu, but it's sweet, rich and giving.

Watson and Joe Pagliaro are the power duo behind such plant-loving premises at Waterloo's Paperbark, and Verd in Surry Hills.

For this small, low-key, neighbourly vegan pasta and gnocchi bar, they teamed up with chef Joel Bennetts, who has cooked at the Pier at Rose Bay and Three Blue Ducks, as well as boutique hotel AIR Myoko in Japan.

The drinks list and menu at Peppe's in Bondi are chalked on the blackboard daily.
The drinks list and menu at Peppe's in Bondi are chalked on the blackboard daily. Photo: Wolter Peeters

The narrow room holds little more than two long communal tables, with a bar running down one wall. Food and a handful of cocktail and wine options are written up on blackboards to emphasise their daily-changing nature.

Negronis ($15) and Old-Fashioneds ($15) are expertly made and nicely balanced, and the board offers an easy, silky, no-additives Charlotte Dalton 2018 Eliza pinot noir from the Adelaide Hills ($15/$70).

Bennetts tends to use masses of herbs, dried mushrooms, cooked-down onions and vegetables to build layers of flavour, and being a photographer, also has an eye for colour and form.

Heirloom tomatoes and basil bruschetta is a lovely last gasp of summer.
Heirloom tomatoes and basil bruschetta is a lovely last gasp of summer. Photo: Wolter Peeters

So bruschetta ($7) is a lovely last gasp of summer in its grilled and oiled Iggy's sourdough, topped with a rough chop of juicy, oily, heirloom tomatoes and basil.

Two green olive arancini ($7) see a risotto base of onions, garlic, thyme, white wine, nutritional yeast, herbs and chilli oil, loaded with parsley and lemon zest, rolled and fried until crisp.

Tonight there are three gnocchi – one green with pesto, one pale with porcini and cauliflower, and a third, vibrantly red with tomato ($20). The fat little cushions of potato gnocchi are soft and fresh-tasting, coated in tomato sugo and popping with salty prickles of deep-fried capers, fat little cherry tomatoes and basil leaves.

Tiramisu, made without eggs or mascarpone, is sweet, rich and giving.
Tiramisu, made without eggs or mascarpone, is sweet, rich and giving. Photo: Wolter Peeters

A daily special of fettuccine zucchini ($27) is a big serve of egg-free pasta sauced with zucchini puree, chilli, parsley and white wine. Bennetts adds contrast, not with parmigiano, but with southern Italy's traditional alternative, pangrattato (crunchy breadcrumbs).

It's not austere; just sweet and gentle and a little bland. A small side dish of cime de rape is wilted with chilli and garlic; straight-up, simple and natural.

You could take the word vegan out of this review, and it wouldn't change much about this small, genuine, good-value trattoria. All that's important is whether the food is worth trying (it is), and whether the restaurant is a good place to be (it is).

The low-down

Drinks Four classic cocktails, two beers, nine minimal-intervention wines.

Vegetarian Everything is vegan.

Cost About $80 for two, plus drinks.

Go-to dish Gnocchi al pomodoro, $20.

Pro tip If you don't want to queue, get there before 6pm.

Terry Durack is chief restaurant critic for The Sydney Morning Herald and senior reviewer for the Good Food Guide. This rating is based on the Good Food Guide scoring system.