Style, swagger and seductiveness – retro-inspired charmer Sasso Italiano opens in Woolloongabba
Many of the Italian-American eateries that proliferated across the USA in the 60s and 70s remain enduring culinary icons. These neighbourhood trattorias evolved into community institutions, creating a legacy of hospitality that continues to inspire successive generations of epicurean entrepreneurs. The owners of Woolloongabba’s new eatery Sasso Italiano count themselves among the new breed of operators blending this old-school approach with a touch of contemporary chic. The restaurant, the first of many new concepts in the works at South City Square on Logan Road, is serving up a menu of trattoria staples (think rigatoni amatraciana, cotoletta, meatballs, cacio e pepe and margherita pizza) and a drinks list headlined by ten kinds of negroni in surrounds that sublimely harmonise the aesthetics of past and present.
Every time one drives down Woolloongabba’s Logan Road stretch, Pellicano’s South City Square development seems to have expanded a little more outward and a little more upward. The seven-stage living and lifestyle precinct has loomed excitingly on the horizon since it broke ground in 2014, with its announced host of amenities helping keep it atop our ‘most-anticipated’ list as the hub gradually takes shape. Once complete, the masterplanned development will be home to a hotel, a cinema and, most interestingly to us, an array of new drinking and dining destinations. A newly minted hospitality group spearheaded by former Ovolo and QT food and beverage directors Vincent Lombino and Jared Thibault will have a pivotal role in shaping South City Square’s culinary offering. Today marks the crew’s formal entry into Brisbane’s heaving hospitality scene with the official opening of Sasso Italiano, a neighbourhood-oriented eatery and bar that blends Vincent and Jared’s unabashed love of Italian cuisine with their flair for personable and approachable hospitality. It’s a logical starting point for the group, which plans on opening a string of concepts at South City Square between now and mid-2022 (we’ll have more on that soon). Having broken free from the confines of corporate mandates, Vincent and Jared are utilising their newfound creative freedom to establish a venue that draws inspiration from their own upbringings, building Sasso as an ode to the convivial Italian eateries of America they grew up in and around. As far as jumping off points go, it’s a pretty good one. The duo are eager to make a good first impression with a dining experience that channels the feeling of comfort that comes with dining at a local favourite, where your name and order are etched into memory and a sense of belonging permeates the entire experience.
Although touted as an old-school trattoria, Sasso Italiano (designed in conjunction with Brisbane-based firm Collectivus) looks to evoke the spirit and soul of those eateries, rather than replicate the exact look and feel. Vince and Jared, being detail-oriented operators, have taken a hands-on approach to the fit-out, creating comprehensive briefs on the look and layout of Sasso’s interior. The 110-seat restaurant’s corner location (situated at the base of the 1 South City Square building on the corner of Logan Road and Deshon Street) boasts a curved frontage shielded by swaying olive trees, with alfresco seating running along both angles of the exterior. Groups can perch at the bar or in the cosy cocktail nook before taking a seat in the main dining space, or order from the takeaway window around the side. Inside, guests are greeted by warm materiality, from the paved stone floors (sasso means stone in Italian), pink marble bar top, rendered-concrete walls and timber wainscoting, as well as softening accents like the abundance of curved edges, plush upholstery on the banquettes and chairs, pops of greenery, rippled glass and a mirrored back bar. The team’s attention to the finer details is also noticeable elsewhere, from the staff’s sleek Natasha Gan-designed uniforms and the art on the walls from Libby Haines to the chicly branded tableware and wheat straws poking out of the top of cocktails. Sasso Italiano’s personality boasts a touch of swagger – think Travolta-in-Saturday-Night-Fever-like strut and the self-assured spunk one needs when wearing a patterned shirt unbuttoned to the navel. A tasteful blend of 70s-inspired and contemporary aesthetics results in something that’s distinct in look, comfortable in feel and stylishly timeless. There’s a seductive retro sensibility at play with the soundtrack – expect a playlist of funk, soul and Italo-disco keeping vibes upbeat.
Sasso Italiano’s menu is an ode to unctuous family-style Italian cuisine and the epicurean ecstasy of dining with one’s nearest and dearest. The team has aimed for a simple, egoless offering that delivers home-style fare elegantly, but without excessive gussied-up flourishes. The group’s culinary consultant Ian Curley (a hatted chef who co-owns French Saloon and Kirk’s Wine Bar in Melbourne) has worked with Sasso’s Amalfi Coast-born head chef Gabriele Di Landri (ex-La Lupa, The Dolphin Hotel, Chiswick Restaurant and Aria) to create Sasso’s menu of trattoria-style nosh, which encompasses snacks, antipasti, pizza (cooked in a Marana Forni woodfire oven with a deck wrought from Mount Vesuvius lava stone), pasta, mains and dessert. A meal at Sasso could follow many different paths. One could start with gnocco fritto (with parma prosciutto, parmesan and honey dressing) and confit octopus before going large with pork cotoletta accompanied by truffle fries, charred asparagus and whole roasted carrots with goats curd. Or, a serve of Sasso’s pillowy house bread served alongside a glossy glob of burrata (coated in bagna cauda, wakame and bread crumbs) makes for a great shared starter before enjoying a procession of pasta dishes (perhaps a ricotta-and-yolk-filled raviolone or a seafood-laden linguine marinara) and pizza (the acciughe topped with white anchovies or the pancetta, potato and ‘nduja crowned calabria pizzas are our pick) before finishing with a cannoli or a scoop of gelato for a sweet finish. Those options don’t even touch on Sasso’s dry-aged Tuscan steak, bistecca alla Fiorentina, braised pork and beef meatballs, calamari fritti or charcuterie selection – so there are ample excuses to return. Jared’s bar program is similarly diverse, with an assortment of wines (featuring more than 80 bottles showcasing light and aromatic whites, juicy medium-bodied reds, natural drops and sparkling sips) and cocktails sure to draw the eye. Of particular mention is the negroni menu, which features ten riffs on the iconic drink as well as a selection of exclusive variations concocted from spirits made in the 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s and 2000s. Sasso Italiano has also partnered with award-winning brewery Aether to create an Italian-style lager (called Birra Cazino) exclusively for the restaurant.
Sasso Italiano is now open to the public. You can find menus, contact details and opening hours in the Stumble Guide.
The Stumble Guide is our comprehensive Brisbane dining guide with more than 2400 places to eat, drink, shop and play.