Colour and character – introducing Biànca, the peach-hued beauty from the Agnes and sAme sAme team
Just when we thought we’d managed to catch our breath after the whirlwind launch of Agnes last year, the team behind one of 2020’s biggest restaurant openings is stepping up to the plate once again. This time, the heralded hospitality group is trying its hand at Italian with Biànca – a slick eatery located just off James Street that boasts a colourful complexion plus a menu of trattoria classics and cocktails that showcase the fun and frivolous side of Italian cuisine.
Opening a hospitality venture in a COVID world is a process that is, understandably, fraught with risks. Few people know this better than Tyron Simon, Ben Williamson and Frank Li – the circumstances surrounding the belated opening of the trio’s impressive woodfired restaurant Agnes (and its trailblazing pandemic pivot) are firmly etched into the lore of its origin story. For Ty, Ben and Frank to agree to go for another piece of the pie so soon after Agnes’ August opening, the circumstances had to be perfect – thankfully, their new and spectacular Italian trattoria Biànca is a product of stars aligning just right. Italian cuisine has been on the cards for the crew for a while now. Before it became home to their beloved Thai restaurant sAme sAme, Tyron, Frank and Ty’s partner Bianca Marchi (a Milanese transplant and the new restaurant’s namesake) considered the Ada Lane site for an Italian-oriented concept. As luck would have it, halfway through 2020 Cal and Michael Malouf of The Calile began scouting for a seasoned operator to take over the former Beaux Rumble space just a few doors down – and Italian was high on their wish list. The rest, as they say, is history. Ty, Ben and Frank signed the lease on the site in July, which gave them time to focus on Agnes’ opening period before reconvening to hash out the underlying identity of their next project.
Tyron describes Biànca as a concept that’s predicated on fun – an elevated-yet-approachable atmosphere, with personality to spare. Compared to Agnes’ and hôntô’s moody, shadowy aesthetics and sAme sAme’s raw and neutral tones, Biànca is all about bright, effervescent colour. Inspiration for the eatery’s vibrant look was drawn from an unlikely source – a set of eye-catching bright-orange cutlery from Sabre Paris, the colour of which was adopted for Biànca’s branding and then Pantone matched to create a palette of complementary hues (think peach, muted pink, terracotta) that has been applied to everything from the seats to the KitchenAid appliances. From there, a substantial Richards and Spence-led redesign saw the interior largely demolished and reformatted, with plywood, concrete and the existing brickwork utilised in conjunction with the colourful powder-coated gridded metal ceiling. The 70-patron capacity is divided between the street-facing bar space and main dining room – the former offering perches for intimate couplings, the latter hosting large groups and couples along central tables, banquettes and counter seats (the venue’s sole exterior table sits in a small leafy courtyard in the corner). Dominating the centre of the dining area is the buzzing antipasti kitchen, while Biànca’s main culinary nexus sits at the rear of the space. Up the stairs one will find the restaurant’s breezy 36-seat private dining space, which peers over bustling Ada Lane. Overall, Biànca’s look is considered down to the smallest detail, with even the speakers (which play an eclectic mix of Italian funk, jazz and 1960s rock) and cameras seamlessly integrated into the vivid sun-kissed aesthetic.
In the Biànca kitchen, Ben Williamson, head chef Callum Grey (who is stepping across from Agnes) and sous chef Mario Asero (ex-Bennelong, Firedoor and Fred’s) have put their brains together to create a menu that lends itself to both low-stakes snacking and occasion-worthy splurging. They’ve started, naturally, with snacks. More than half of the menu is comprised of a robust selection of small-format plates that includes breads, raw dishes (we’re talking marinated mussels with whipped bottarga), fritti and antipasti – the latter category including freshly sliced mortadella speckled with pistachio and peppercorns, seductively soft bubbles of buffalo mozzarella, Olasagasti anchovies, capocollo and pickled fennel. The core of the menu features a regularly rotating selection of house-made pasta, ranging from paccheri al pomodoro with dollops of stracciatella and hearty pork-and-fennel lasagne to ricotta agnolotti with fermented pumpkin and burnt butter, and maccheroncini alla gricia. Mains are comprised of grilled dishes (blue mackerel salmoriglio and pipis with fregola, lemon and bergamot kosho), Milanese-style chicken, porchetta alla Romana and the show-stopping bistecca alla Fiorentina. Side dishes such as grilled broccolini with almond cream and roasted potatoes with confit garlic and rosemary help fill any vacant space on the table, but saving room for dessert is strongly advised – especially when the likes of bombolini (doughnuts stuffed with gelato), cannoli, lemon sorbetto and tiramisu are available.
The ever-important beverage selection is just as considered, with group sommelier Rani Parish and Biànca’s own somm Millie Gosney (ex-ARC Dining) assembling a substantial 350-bottle wine list showcasing some never-before-seen biodynamic Italian wines and Australian wines made from Italian grapes. The team has gone the extra distance with the spirits curation, importing the entirety of its back bar from overseas – that’s roughly 50 Italian gins and as many kinds of amaro, plus grappa, bourbon, rum, tequila and other essential shelf fillers. This niche approach is employed to prompt questions from sippers and help nudge the limits of their comfort zone slightly outward. Biànca’s cocktail list follows the same internal formula shared with its sibling restaurants in that it distills its back bar into a concise eight-strong concoction list that covers most bases. Italian botanicals like basil and rosemary are utilised liberally across the board, and guests will even find a Chinotto-imbued old fashioned on the menu. While the Biànca experience is geared towards repeat custom and accessibility, the bar team has created an ultra-luxe selection of negronis, each made using liquor from the 1950s, 60s and 70s. These sips will cost a pretty penny, but might be just the tipple for those looking to mark an occasion or ensure their dinner is one for the history books.
Biànca is open to the public. For operating hours, contact details and booking information, be sure to click over to the Stumble Guide.
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