In another sign of the times, a pair of Italians, sensing the time is right, have moved to Newcastle to open a restaurant.
Andrea Dazzi and Nico Gentile opened Bella Italia on May 1 at 545 Hunter Street.
Both men have been in the Australian hospitality industry for the last decade, Dazzi as a restaurant manager in Mosman, Gentile as a chef in Sydney and most recently, at Gosford for the last three years.
"I came to Newcastle for work, to do some cooking for a private client," Gentile says. "I fell in love with the place. I could feel the people. The city just called me. I want to spend the rest of my life here."
They have established an immediate point of difference with a wide selection of vegan offerings on their menu (14 dishes, to be exact), from top to bottom. That includes five pizza choices, a stuffed fried eggplant main course, a mushroom risotto and entree dishes zucchini chips and stuffed mushrooms.
"In Italy a lot of dishes are already vegan, so it's not like a big deal for us - just spoil them with vegan," says Gentile, the chef of the pair. "One of the dishes I am extremely proud of is the vegan pavlova."
Of course, on the more traditional side of things, Bella Italia is serious about pizza, as the beautiful Marana oven attests.
There are 26 pizza offerings, not including a garlic crust ($12). Gentile, who trained as a pizzaiolo, has plans to offer cooking classes, which will include how to make pizza his way.
Among the more inventive pizza offerings: Pork belly (with pesto base, porchetta, rocket, balsamic dressing), Alice (tomato, mozzarella, saliciccia, pancetta, salame), Strana (tomato, mozzarella, ham, gorgonzola, asparagus) and the La Rossa (capsicum cream, mozzarella, sausage, gorgonzola). Prices for the 13-inch pizzas vary from $15 to $26.
Everything on the menu is available for takeway, not just the pizzas.
As for Gentile's own favourites, he is fond of his tiramisu( $12) on the dessert menu. His pick of the mains is the tagliatelle al beef brisket, with brisket slow cooked for 24 hours in red wine, finished with a napoletana sauce, served with tagliatella and pecorino cheese ($27).
Bella Italia also has a $10 lunch special menu, with options including a meatball panino (a wood-fired roll with meatballs in Napoletana sauce), three linguine dishes, four pizza varieties (11-inch pizzettas), two salads, or "fryes" with parmesan and aioli for $9.
This week Gentile was preparing a pork belly panino as a lunch special. It looked spectacular.
Bella Italia is located at 545 Hunter Street. It is open six days a week (closed Mondays) from 11am to 9pm (9.30pm on Friday and Saturday), and only lunch on Sunday (11am-3pm).