71A Macleay St Potts Point, NSW 2011
|Opening hours||Daily from 5pm, for dine-in and takeaway|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
|Phone||02 8080 9640|
Pizza? It's personal. Some people like their pizza base thin and crisp; others want it chewy and doughy. Some want to drown in cheese; others need the salty lick of anchovies. And that's without talking fermentation, hydration, wood-fired versus gas, or the potential for pineapple.
In spite of pizza being a near-universal food group that brings people together, it's actually very divisive.
Enter Ria Pizza, the new incarnation of the old Monopole wine bar in Potts Point. According to the Bentley group's Brent Savage, it's an Australian pizza joint, with the pizza made to his own liking – with a slow-fermented sourdough base, a thick pillowy crust without the currently fashionable overcharring, and with premium ingredients dotted on either tomato or bechamel sauces, all baked in an electric deck oven. It's a brave move.
So is the new interior. They've done their darnedest to turn it into a pizza joint with an art-intervention by way of Melbourne artist Ash Keating spraying the walls and ceiling in pinks and greys using a fire extinguisher, and designer Pascale Gomez-McNabb hanging looping strands of illuminated ropes from the ceiling.
But it's really the same smart, comfortable, leather-banquetted wine bar it was, with a faint hint of rave cave.
So, the pizza. Savage and German/Italian head pizzaiolo Ruben Percoco keep it classy with four red (tomato) and four white (bechamel) varieties. They're Disneyland pizzas, reimagined with big puffy crusts and colourful toppings – not oily, floppy or cheesy, but firmer, neater and sourdough-breadier.
The most successful is also the cheapest and most traditional – just tomato, buffalo mozzarella and basil ($21). There's salami with tomato, black olive and rocket ($25), and a "ham and clam" on a white bechamel base studded with hide-and-seek clams, capers, chervil and furls of prosciutto ($28), but the tomato base will always get my vote over the blander bechamel.
Things get fancy with toppings of octopus and nduja, or prawns, saltbush and XO chilli, ready to be pimped with white truffles, Ortiz anchovies, and even Black Pearl beluga caviar at $180 for 30 grams.
There are simpler joys to be had in the snacks and sides, from lovely, gentle house-cured ocean trout ($16) riched up with sauce gribiche, to flinty, freshly opened Sydney Rock oysters ($5 each). Fresh stracciatella cheese is topped with floppy furls of crisp, blushing pink watermelon radish ($17), in a cream-and-crunch combo that's pure Savage.
The menu also lists Crust Dips. Note, these are not crusts and dips, but dips for your pizza crust, another polarising idea. I thought pizza crusts are there to go with your pizza, not to rip off and dip into something else.
You can, however, do a side order of cute, doughy pizza sticks ($5), ready to dip into a terrific whipped mullet roe ($10) under a cloud of shaved bottarga, or spread with a devilishly rich parmesan custard ($10).
My strategy (copyright © 2021 Terry Durack, all rights reserved) is to use the pizza as an enabler. Go straight margherita, and be your own pimp with prosciutto ($19), Ortiz anchovies ($14) and an heirloom tomato salad with straggles of pickled onion ($16).
So, not your average pizza joint, then. They've taken it upmarket, served it with chablis, showered it with truffles and caviar and surrounded it with full service levels, yet still called it casual dining.
They've also turned a fast food into a slow one, giving you time for a civilised dinner with cocktails and natural wines, right through to a sassy little brick of peach and coconut sorbet for dessert, served with macerated peaches ($16).
They even do "merch" – pizza slice key rings, hats and T-shirts – although they're a bit embarrassed about it.
Brent Savage and Nick Hildebrandt were always going to interpret a pizzeria in a different way to anyone else, but it's all good quality and all good fun. And like I said, it's personal.
Ria Pizza + Wine
Vegetarian: Five snacks, three pizzas, three dips
Drinks: Contemporary and classic cocktails and an enticing, edited (100 bottle) Italian wine list from Nick Hildebrandt, with star turns from South Australia's Unico Zelo.