Dining: Totti’s, beautiful Italian dining for the ages
A stunning renovation and simple but exquisite cooking come together in an unexpected Bondi location, discovers Elizabeth Meryment. Images by Nikki To.
There are two large and lovely olive trees in the sunny rear courtyard at Totti’s.
On a lazy lunchtime and through soft early evenings, dappled light filters through the silvery leaves onto the tables beneath. There are white walls and green canvas chairs; a bubble of chatter from the crowded tables. The smell of baking bread and sizzling garlic drifts from the kitchen.
If it feels as though Totti’s has been here forever, its essence transported from the old continent with the first wave of Italian migrants back in the 1940s, the illusion is shattered somewhat when our friendly waiter informs us that the olive trees were craned in only last month. Six months ago this courtyard was a dive.
Such is the transformative power of a very decent renovation, both on the ground and in the kitchen, where now preside not two well-known Italians, but two well-known Australian chefs in Khan Danis (for many years Neil Perry’s trusted lieutenant) and Mike Eggert, whose credits include cult venues Pinbone and Mr Liquor’s Dirty Italian Disco.
So Totti’s is the newest success for hospitality giant Merivale, another triumph for siblings Justin and Bettina Hemmes, whose combined vision (he on venue, she on design) have created something quite wonderful out the back of what was an overlooked Bondi Road boozer. (The boozer element remains, actually, in the front part of the pub, which is untouched).
The premise at Totti’s is to offer simple Italian food “like you used to get”. I’m not sure what you used to get but what I want is what Totti’s is offering now — light, fresh, perfectly simple, perfectly realised dishes that scream of healthy eating but also good times.
The menu is relatively short. Start by snacking on antipasti built around piles of puffy flatbread that arrive still smoking from a huge wood-fired pizza oven. Tear them up to eat with prosciutto, or a plate of gorgeous seasonal cherry tomatoes splashed with olive oil and sprinkled with tiny leaves of thyme, or burrata seasoned with salt and black pepper. Simple, delicious.
Then choose from the few pasta dishes: lamb ragu with pappardelle, say, or prawn casarecce, or a briny fregola with calamari and mussels. All smallish dishes big on flavour.
Mains, too, are achingly restrained, which is said with no disrespect. Whiting is a plate of four slivers of perfectly fried fillets offered with a lemon cheek, while alternatives include reinvented bistro classics: veal and pork schnitzel, whole roast chicken, minute steak. The good eating is in the salads that you order to sidle up to the mains — try an excellent zucchini, mint and parmesan combination or a seasonally inclined lettuce and nectarine construction.
There’s a Neapolitan ice-cream sandwich to finish that I love, and the drinks list, curated as always by Merivale’s big-gun sommelier Franck Moreau, is breezy and ideal.
Offering simple food and convincing people to pay handsomely for it is not the easy art it may seem. But the Hemmes clan has nailed it on all fronts — space, food, drinks, vibe — at Totti’s. Another winner joins the stable.
283 Bondi Rd, Bondi; merivale.com
Mains $27-$89 (800-gram rib eye)