By S Davey
The first thing you notice at Di Vino is that they have got the ‘feel’ just right. It’s an elegantly-earthed venue, with polished wood and a naturally cultured lighting design. There is a generously-sized rustic bar that is warmly lit, and features splendid handcrafted, deep-green Morrocan tiles. The aromas from the kitchen are wonderful, and the seats are comfortable.
Di Vino was set up by born-and-bred locals Joe McMahon and Felix McKenzie, who describe themselves as ‘just a couple of surfers,’ along with Achille Martino, who grew up in Rome, and head chef, Bruno Conti, from Genova. Together they have created a restaurant that maintains a Byron vibe while delivering an authentic Italian food and wine experience.
One of the goals for the restaurateurs was to create a place that visiting and ex-pat Italians would appreciate. McMahon explains, ‘We knew that if we could make the Italians happy – we’d be set – they’re a difficult crowd, and very proud of their food and wine.’ Well, on the night we visited, sitting at an adjacent table was a group who spoke Italian all night! ‘Of course we’ve had to find a bit of a balance between what’s specific to the Italian culture – that we are not really ready for here – but we are trying to introduce new things each year…’.
With that aim, they are doing ‘regional’ dinner nights where they try new things that people might be unfamiliar with, to introduce them to the Italian way of eating and drinking.
Our Italian food experience began with Antipasti. The white anchovies dish was a delight, little bursts of pink peppercorn combined with the tang of pickled fish and rich olive oil and pistachio – the chef brings in the Genovan olive oil for this dish. I also tried the fresh burrata, which comes with eggplant, olives, tomato coulis and pine nuts – another great combo of fresh and rich flavours. The rigatoni amatricianna with tomato, crispy pork cheek and pecorino had a rich red colour and handsome, earthy flavours. For a perfect finish, the vanilla pannacotta with raspberry coulis was gorgeous, and I think the best pannacotta I have ever had.
The cocktails list has a confident Italian lean, and the wines feature many choices of Italian and Australian varietals.
While the big end of town have vast budgets and can push up costs, such as rent, when they come to the bay, this group did it all with the more modest resources of local hospitality artisans, with Joe attributing their successful first 15 months to the support of local people who understood the importance of locally owned, successful small businesses to keeping the town’s soul. Di Vino is upbeat, yet unpretentious, and they’ve got everything right – from mood to food!
2 Fletcher St, Byron Bay