So this is what’s become of Buzo, the neighbourhood Italian restaurant that had been pleasing Paddington locals for over a decade. It’s interesting, actually, to watch your average well heeled diner walk in, not quite clock it’s not the same restaurant and sit down to order a chocolate crackle iced with a whipped chicken liver parfait.
The penny drops when they try ordering the truffled lasagne. The Buzo staple’s been replaced with sticky twice-cooked lamb ribs blasted in toasted crushed peanuts and tiny little toasts covered in juicy crabmeat, fragrant with fennel and cumin. And the locals are staying. Better yet, they’re coming back.
Their new local is the work of Pinbone, the hospitality collective made up of chefs Mike Eggert and Jemma Whiteman (both of whom have clocked up some significant hours at Billy Kwong) and Berri Eggert (last seen wrangling the floor at Café Paci). The team famous for their produce-driven, experimental pop-up dinners have established their first permanent residency in what was once one of Sydney’s most popular Italian restaurants.
Once a dark space filled with Cinzano posters and an impressive grappa selection, the split-level terrace is now light-and-flowers-filled. Upstairs is a little more formal while downstairs holds a communal table, perfect for Sunday brunch, and bar seating for perching and swilling. Geometric brackets hold bare globes, spilling golden light. Every cream-coloured wall is covered in art, including a series of block prints of the team’s favourite Wes Anderson characters. Alas, no Margot Tenenbaum, but we’ll doff our beanies in deference to Steve Zissou.
There’s a serious emphasis on fun here, with a backbone of solid cooking. In the kitchen, Mike Eggert and Whiteman are turning up the funk on the humble potato skin, filling the Sizzler classic with pungent smoked-and-melted cheese. They do a broccoli steak, smothered in anchovy sauce hidden under a blanket of melted cheese paper.
And they’re not afraid to pull at the seams, either, serving pickled pearl onions and prunes with a smoky syrup made from lapsang suchong tea. Octopus tentacles are draped in something we can only describe as red cabbage-flavoured raw silk, like the fragments of a torn formal dress. Duck hearts are coated in a sticky, rich duck stock, dotted with black beans and pickled celery. Heavily blushing, perfectly seasoned slices of skirt steak come covered in a doona of blanched mustard greens.
Pork and pineapple is the crowning glory for us. Here, hunks of roasted suckling pig line up on the plate next to slices of pineapple, grilled until they’re charry and sweet. You take a bit of each, season to taste with the accompanying wakame and liquorice nori powder and refresh yourself with a handful of herbs. It’s Hawaii. It’s Tropicana. It’s kind of wrong. Which makes it all kinds of good.
Out the front, Mike’s sister Berri handles the floor, slinging a wine list broken into factions like ‘pouring wines’, ‘fizzy shit’ and ‘big shit’. It is, we assure you, mostly delicious shit. And it’s poured by a wine-loving team, both front and back of house. There’s a big emphasis on natural and biodynamic gear here – if it’s well oxidised, if it’s had some generous skin contact and if it has a name like ‘Friend Experiment’ or ‘Pow Blop Wizz’, it’s likely to appear in front of you.
This is assertive cooking. And the thing is, it doesn’t always work. We’re not so sure we understand the potato halves nestled on a bed of hazelnut puree – it’s all just kind of starchy and nut buttery. And on our visit the desserts are a little samey (soft thing, cloudy thing, gloopy thing, punctuated by crunchy or crisp thing) but it’s food with a voice. And it’s a voice we want to hear from more.