First came Dan Puskas at Oscillate Wildly (a rosy 26). Then there was Dan Hong at Lotus (a tender 25). Now to this precociously talented group we can add Gianni Chicco and Charlie Bruyere, both 25, who are running their own incredibly successful Pyrmont café, having slogged it out at some of Sydney's top restaurants.
Bar Zini nights
This popular Pyrmont café now boasts a liquor license and a legendary Sydney chef. By Myffy Rigby
Eugenio Riva and Beverley Wood are back. Up until 2006, the formidable couple owned Darlinghurst's Ristorante Riva (Riva in the kitchen, Wood on the floor). The day they hung out the closed sign and headed to Hong Kong was the day Sydney food lovers wept. We've thrown the bones and read the smoke, and by all accounts Beverley Wood (aka Aunty Bev) is working the floor at Sean's Panaroma. You can find Eugenio Riva banging the pans three nights a week at Bar Zini.
So how did the Bar Zini crew happen to nab one of Sydney's most revered Italian chefs? "He's a mate of my dad's," says co-owner and floor manager Gianni Chicco. For the past couple of years, Zini has been operating as a café offering Pyrmont excellent coffee and fresh Italian fare, care of chef Charlie Bruyere. He's still cooking during the day, mind you, it's during the evening you'll get the Riva gear.
The Bar Zini crew have finally got their liquor licence so the espresso counter now doubles as a bar. While you're waiting for your table (they don't take bookings) you can have a drink (Campari, Aperol and Averna as well as beer and quite a substantial Italian wine selection). It's eating in Pyrmont like you've never seen before. Try the likes of rigatoni – big, tubular pasta with a rich beef ragu – or ribbons of fettuccine coated in pea puree and pimped with rags of prosciutto. Plump pork sausages with sweet pickled red cabbage is a heftier offering and worth sharing with the salad of shaved fennel, sliced raw mushroom (yes we know, but they work really well here) with thin shavings of parmesan, brightened with lemon juice and olive oil.
Sadly, they're out of tiramisu on our visit, so we have a pear frangipane tart with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and a slice of apple cake with cinnamon cream. They're both good but quite similar, so we're hoping the tiramisu's back on next time.
Want to eat honest Italian food, made from scratch in a tiny neighbourhood restaurant? Head to Zini.
Open since December last year, the duo's focus is on fresh produce with an eye to simple Italian dishes. "It's our first venture," says Chicco who works the floor and also acts as barista, "and it's a lot of work - Ultimo's a hard area to crack."
The pair met on set at the once too-cool-for-school Italian restaurant La Sala. But both have a string of fancy restaurants on their CVs - Chicco having worked front of house at Otto and Icebergs, and Bruyer at Aria then as sous chef at La Sala.
All that time in fancy Italian restaurants seems to have rubbed off. The food at Bar Zini is really exceptional with the housemade pasta a big standout. Firm ribbons of perfectly seasoned fettucine hold a sweet, rich sauce of tomato and pancetta and a touch of chilli that adds enough sass to be noticed but not enough to be offensive and a scanty shave of parmo - it's a dish often seen but rarely pulled off.
The salads are dazzling, too. The specials change daily and, on the day we visit, boiled egg halves with saffron coloured yolks share a plate with whole roasted baby beets, sticky-sweet roasted halves of spring onion, a judicious scattering of mixed leaves and a cream dressing pepped up with chives. A good salad is a thing of beauty where balance is all, and here it's achieved with elegance and integrity.
The pizette is a great version of a café classic: a thin base holds slices of tomato and salami topped with parmesan - great with a little greenery on the side. Because of their locale, they're big with the office workers who dash in and out for crema-fat coffee and panini (there's a mortadella, olive tapenade and tomato version we'll be back for) but it's well worth the walk over the footbridge from the city for a Friday lunch. They've also just begun opening on Saturdays, too.
Charlie makes all his own pasta, biscotti and occasionally his own bread if there's a soup on the menu (otherwise it's from that baker to the stars, Sonoma). Because of their space limitations, they pretty much have to keep ordering modestly and use what they have which means everything is fresh - a rare thing.
In short, Bar Zini rocks. Get there and get eating.
The bill (for two)