If the mood board on the website is anything to go by, CicciaBella is a place inspired by mortadella and fish scales, tongues and abdominals, seafoam, party frocks, lemon cheeks and butt cheeks. So, just another Italian restaurant in Bondi then.
But does your Bondi Italian restaurant swing effortlessly between snacks, pasta and things from the wood oven? Does it pour wine with a natural lean from both here and the Bel Paese? Is it run by one of the city’s most astute hospitality groups, home to a kitchen helmed by one of Sydney’s hottest chefs and a team that combines good sense with good-looking uniforms? Didn’t think so.
Well, we could be describing Totti’s, but Ciccia has its own thing going. Replacing Da Orazio Pizza and Porchetta, CicciaBella is Maurice Terzini and the Icebergs family's answer to how we want to eat all summer. Lighter and healthier, he says, and skewed towards snacking and sharing. The space has been reworked to be more moody and more adult with concrete detailing, lightboxes and swathes of tie-dye fabric that make it feel like a Rick Owens fallout shelter that just happens to have an outstanding kid’s menu.
There’s also a ton of talent: Bella Brutta pizza guy Mitch Westwood is on the wood oven; cocktails are by Matt Whiley from Scout; sommelier James Hird has done the wine list; and in the kitchen there’s Mitch Orr, the chef who made baloney sandwiches and #notitalian pasta runaway hits at ACME in Rushcutters Bay.
These are the parts, it’s on you to put them together. Start with antipasti, where garlicky pizza fritta (yes, fried pizza) serves as a crisp base for an array of single-track snacks. Take the eggplant in sesame oil and temper it with a scoop of whipped ricotta. Move to the punch of tuna crudo turned through Calabrian chilli and brighten it with a plate of broad beans and edamame. This is a section for double-dipping. If it’s not for the woodfired clams in a sharply spiced tomato sauce, it’ll be the roasted marrow bone dressed with garlic, lemon zest and parsley that strips osso buco back to its essentials. Pizza fritta material for sure.
It’s also drinking material. You’ll do well with $9 house wines (to which you can add a plate of peaches for $5, because Bondi) or a twist on a Harvey Wallbanger made with orange wine and cream soda, but it’s the plastic-sealed wine list that demands attention. Grapes are obscure, vintages absent, notes evocative. “Nigella Lawson’s voice as a white wine,” reads the garganega from Veneto; “oxidised, grandma’s liquor cabinet, almond, peach,” says the unfined, unfiltered trebbiano-malvasia blend ($12 a glass; way better than Grammie's sherry).
Orr’s trick is simple ideas spun in new directions. You know puttanesca as a pasta sauce made with tomato, anchovy, olives and capers, but here it’s the topping for a perfectly mid-sized pizzetta. Spring and mustard greens gain vigour from ricotta on another. The bases? Fluffy without being dry, charred and nicely elastic.
There are glimpses of seaweed and dashi in the pasta section, but simplicity rules here, too. Fettuccine tossed in kale pesto might land a little watery, but a raggedy maltagliati sauced with braised rabbit ragù and topped with toasted pistachios is masterful – sweet from a glug of vermouth, rich, and without a hint of dryness. No one really cooks rabbit, this dish asks why the hell not.
It’s a menu to be explored as snacks one week, pizzette and pasta the next, mains the one after. Be it a salt-and-vinegar pork chop, or a flank steak cooked medium-rare and sauced in reduced balsamic and thyme butter, said mains are focused, and fairly priced.
Add desserts that emphasise ease and interest – grapefruit granita with Sichuan pepper meringue here; chocolate custard with honeycomb there; an affogato with coffee amaro – and CicciaBella is as appealing to locals as it is to families as it is to the in-crowd. There might be some tricks we’ve seen before, but not all together and not like this.
Just another Bondi Italian restaurant? Not quite.