THE HEART OF FRIULI VENEZIA IN ITALY’S NORTH COMES TO CANBERRA, AUSTRALIA’S CAPITAL CITY,WITH AGOSTINIS
RELAXED SOPHISTICATION AND A TOUCH OF PLAYFULNESS CREATES A DESTINATION ITALIAN DINING EXPERIENCE IN THE AUSTRALIA’S CAPITAL
Agostinis is the creation of siblings Dan and Dion Bisa and represents the latest addition to their family of cool, happening venues in the nation’s capital and a natural expression of their lifelong passion for good, simple Italian food, the kind they grew up with. Designed by Kelly Ross, Agostinis welcomes guests in the Italian tradition of friends, family, laughter and great food.
Located in East Hotel, the restaurant reflects the Bisas love of Italian food and culture, as well as complementing the hotel, owned and operated by family business Bisa Hotels. The restaurant is named in homage to their mother Marisa, whose family owned a restaurant in Northern Italy bearing the family name of Agostinis, before migrating to Australia in the 1930’s.
From the outset, the Bisa’s wanted to create a restaurant in Canberra that would be warmly inviting for all, with a relaxed sophistication and a touch of playfulness, serving classic Italian food done to perfection. The continuation of the close relationship with Chef Franceso Balestrieri was vital as his exuberance, style and pure love of authentic Italian cooking has seen Agostinis ‘little brother’, Joe’s Bar, become one of Canberra’s favourites and seen him develop a devoted following.
“Agostinis is the realization of a dream for us,” said owner Dion Bisa. “We have been inspired by restaurants all over the world that define their cities and our aim was for Agostinis to be that restaurant in Canberra; a destination dining experience. By creating this spectacular place for people to come and enjoy our hospitality, we have taken the next step in activating the precinct we had always envisioned for East Hotel and brought our vision to life.”
Interior designer Kelly Ross, whose design for Joe’s Bar earned a multitude of accolades, has returned to create a tableau where once again the devil resides in the details. Every object within the space is customized or custom made, with a backstory that ties back to the central narrative of the life of Marisa Bisa; all whilst providing a delicious backdrop and stage for business travellers, families and friends to see, be seen and enjoy the unique atmosphere. By creating something in between a gallery and a modern theatre experience in the restaurant, Ross maintains a delicate balance between past and present; history coupled with modernity, celebration and surprise.
The pink glow of neon signage frames the entrances from the hotel lobby or the street, where customers arrive in the free-spirited, spacious front section of the restaurant, flanked by the bustling open kitchen with ‘pizzaiolos’ tossing their dough and flames leaping from busy stovetops. Diners looking for a quieter, intimate experience move further through to the next section, with a more serene ambience, alongside the glamorous bar, where they can slide into the comfort of a leopard-print booth and order a glass of something Italian.
Ross’ designs revolve around a ‘heart’; a sample of fabric, tile or treasure that communicates the essence of the space and for Agostinis it was a series of botanical prints and a fine leopard print from Kingdom Home, represented by Sydney based fabric studio Emily Ziz, which line the banquettes throughout the space. The vibrant patterns speak clearly of Marisa’s contemporary Australian life whilst the dolomite, limestone and tile refer back to her Italian origins.
The materials used in the restaurant have been lifted from and inspired by the geologically complex region of Friuli Venezia, the Agostini family homeland in northern Italy, which is known as limestone, dolomite and marble country. The limestone marble counter that runs the length of the open kitchen is veined with dolomite, whilst the copper light installations hanging above the entrance from the hotel lobby are complete with dolomite counterweights. The stonework feature wall was inspired by the cobbled streets of Marisa’s home-town of Prato Carmico with gold highlights representing glints of alpine sun refracting off the rough limestone.
The feature tile in the kitchen is from a series named ‘Puzzle’ by Mutina, which has 8 colour families, each with 6 designs within it, whilst three Libran constellation light features by Australian designers Anaesthetic Design feature in the main dining area. Through the bar and a billowing blush curtain, the outdoor terrace is festooned with lights and macramé hung greenery and offers a beautiful al fresco setting.
Hanging from dowel rods in the ceiling is 800m of distressed rope, cut to lengths and hand-dyed in the Japanese ‘shibori’ style, that represents home made pasta hung to dry in the sun, traditionally by the children of Italian families. The Italian custom of involving the entire family in the production of food is playfully captured and adds another element of theatre to the space, further highlighting it’s open, welcoming, family-friendly credentials.
Every chair in the restaurant has been custom made and designed to stand out from the surrounding palette. The contrasting pattern is indicative of the Friuli Venezia region, being the land of intersection and change, spanning a wide variety of climates and landscapes from mild oceanic in the south to cooler Alpine to the north.
“My second collaboration with the Bisas has been a celebration of the family values of hard work, honesty and quality,” said Kelly Ross. “Marisa Bisa, the matriarch of the Bisa family, is the reluctant catalyst for this project and it was important to me to pay homage to her spirit in a way that would influence the overall appearance of the restaurant. Having her story in mind guided the creative process and gave every element special meaning. Agostinis is about an unapologetic enthusiasm for being honest and bold, not for the purpose of craving attention but as a vehicle to express oneself.”
Throughout Agostinis, starting with the softly enticing neon signage, Ross has celebrated pink hues in the palette, pairing it with several shades of terracotta, which was an important export from Italy to Australia for decades, and brought to life by metallic gold touches such as in the limestone wall. A striking feature wall by Australian graphic designer James Manning forms the centrepiece of the restaurant. Based around an old photograph of the original Agostinis bar in Prato Carmico, the artwork was designed specifically to harmonise with the blush and grey cactus flower fabric of the banquette running its length and to enhance the theme of a contemporary nod to history. The blush and cerulean theme continues through all of Manning’s design elements, from the branding to the menu design and the whimsical books on Italian hand gestures that sit on each table.
“Many of my happiest childhood memories are associated with my family coming together over food,” said Dan Bisa, owner and Director of Bisa Hotels. “My mother is an incredible Italian cook and she was taught by her parents, so we have been fortunate to be surrounded by really authentic Italian food our whole lives. Inspired by the success of Joe’s Bar, what we envisioned was a beautiful, inviting space, with all the Kelly Ross magic, that would be gorgeous but accessible to all, from business travellers staying at EAST through to local families and groups of friends.”
Irrepressible Romano Chef Francesco Balestrieri impressed with his style of exceptional Italian cuisine at Joe’s Bar, prepared with love and laughter and now leads the 15 person kitchen team at Agostinis where his menu is a celebration of simple authenticity, prepared to perfection. Pasta is freshly made to order in house and Agostinis pizzas are created in the open kitchen using the freshest ingredients and a special Neapolitan artisan technique where the pizza dough naturally rises for 72 hours before going into the state-of-the-art rotating Marana Forni pizza oven.
Imported from Verona, Italy, it is the only one of its kind in Canberra and is capable of cooking 15 pizzas at one time. The menu is inspired by the traditional cuisine of northern Italy, with dishes such as Agostinis Antipasto Originale - Veneto salame, San Daniele prosciutto, Black Pepper Mortadella, Treccia mozzarella, olives & sourdough; Frico – based on Marisa Bisa’s own recipe, this is a typical dish from the Friuli region of Italy, with paper thin layers of Montasio cheese & potato, oven roasted to form a heavenly, crunchy, chewy morsel; Paccheri Salsiccia di Maiale - tube-shaped pasta with Italian pork, fennel & chilli sausage slow cooked with tomato sugo; and Cotoletta alla Milanese - parmesan & thyme crusted 250gm veal cutlet served with a fennel & cabbage insalata.
The Bistecca alla Fiorentina, for 2-3 people to share is the house specialty - this classic 1kg aged T-Bone is prepared simply with salt and rosemary, grilled to medium rare and left to sit and contemplate before being served with roast potatoes & a medley of mustard, horseradish & salsa verde butter. Then there are the bianca or rossa pizzas, created by the specially trained ‘pizzaiolo’s’, which have been designed in the traditional Italian style with fewer ingredients working in absolute harmony on the light and airy base. Groups can enjoy the one-meter long Mama Mia pizza with a selection of three toppings. It is recommended to reserve space for the creations of the dedicated ‘pasticcere’ such as the Maritozzo con Gelato- freshly made brioche bun served warm, filled with vanilla & chocolate gelato or Agostinis’ Tiramisu - savoiardi biscuits, freshly brewed coffee, marscapone & chocolate mousse.
Jars of the specially created Agostinis Pizza Spice mix can be purchased, as well as a number of original and eclectic items such as pizza boards, tote bags, marinated olives and olive oil.
The carefully curated wine list at Agostinis has been designed not to overwhelm, but to provide the best Italian wine experience possible with a balanced array of varietals from all over Italy, alongside a few Australian favourites, including Beppo’s Blend, a blend of Sangiovese, Nebbiolo and Barbera, three great Italian varietals, made especially for Agostinis by local wine genius, Bryan Martin from Ravensworth Wines at Murrumbateman. Alongside that, Agostinis offers the only 100% Italian made wines available on tap in Australia. The TAP. system guarantees freshness and pitch-perfect flavour available as Pinot Grigio, Rosé or Sangiovese and is served in sophisticated carafes. The beverage selection also includes a wide range of imported and local beer.