I defy anyone to look into the depths of Sophia Loren’s décolletage and concentrate on matters culinary.
Yet that is what the management of Bar Machiavelli – the dining Sydney icon’s newest venture in Rushcutters Bay – is asking you to do.
All around the walls off this amazing space – an old tire factory from a previous age when pneumatic wheels ruled the roads – wait, I think they still do – are projections of great Italian cinema classics, different movies running in 14-second morsels to avoid punitive copyright lawsuits.
A goodly number of said classics involve Loren looming over you from a height of 50 feet, projected on exposed brick and beams left in their original state by design maestro Jason Mowen.
Manfully, I begin work on my starter – a plate of amazingly tender luncheon meats – billed on the menu as antipasti misti, a selection of cured boar, Italian cheeses, olives and prawns with this and that on the side.
Verily, they take their luncheon meats seriously here.
What do you think? Says my companion.
“Awesome, bella good in fact.”
That is an understatement. I glance towards the custom glass-walled pasta making room where numerous parts of former boars hang from the ceiling, presumably absorbing additional smoke from the array of burners.
And that sums up Bar Machiavelli, which is being overseen by Paola Toppi of Sydney’s iconic Machiavelli at Wynyard, a place where the city’s political elite hatch plans, indulge in skulduggery, and keep abreast of the latest gossip.
Toppi tells Lunch: “My mother, Giovanna Toppi, taught me everything I know about food as I learned by her side in the kitchen of the original Machiavelli.
“She has always loved creating new concepts, and this new restaurant honours her love of a style of Italian dining that is casual and for a new generation. We feel this is how Sydneysiders want to enjoy Italian – fun, high energy, but still drawing on the classic cooking principles and well-loved dishes.”
For the pasta o secondo I grab the spaghetti fitta in casa Machiavelli – prawns, mushroom, anchovies, garlic and chilli.
The pasta is in fact homemade and it is as hard to stop gobbling it down as it is to tear my eyes away from constantly changing images on the walls. The sauce is inspired, moreish and homey.
We decide to drink our dessert – Tiramisu martinis – two each, adhering to Dorothy Parker’s adage. Holy cow. They are cooling after the chilli in the pasta – and I’m guessing one more will, in fact, have me under the table.
This is Mowen’s first commercial project in Australia after spending 14 years working in London and Madrid, and he has brought some of European inspiration to the space.
Working with the industrial features, he has maintained the sense of height and space, opening the restaurant up to make the most of its unique high ceilings and loft-like dimensions.
“I’ve played on the grandeur of the space, instead of being afraid of its scale, the design embraces it,” says Mowen.
“From the huge, classically- inspired mural to the sculptural, low-slung gold bar and the red leather banquettes, each element would stand out on its own but comes together to make for an industrial and highly-textured interior.”
The team includes stalwarts from some of Sydney’s leading culinary lights such as Fei Jai, The Barber Shop, Rockpool Bar & Grill and Palmer & Co.
Bar Machiavelli also has a monthly Bellini and a dedicated dessert cocktail menu, including the afore-mentioned tiramisu martini.
Have three and raise a glass to the projected images of Sophia Loren or Marcello Mastroianni on the walls and try to remember the films … I couldn’t.