Ursini has already made a name for himself in the Adelaide hospitality scene, launching his popular Frome Street eatery André’s Cucina and Polenta Bar in 2009 and later branching out to catering in 2015 when he started a produce garden and commercial kitchen at his 8ha property at Mylor.
His latest and most ambitious project – a new restaurant called Orso with an adjoining delicatessen called Willmott’s Gastronomia – will open to the public on Tuesday after two years of carefully guarded planning.
Housed in a circa-1885 renovated bluestone building at the city-end of Kensington Road, Orso and Willmott’s seat a combined 130 people, including in a separate private dining room upstairs and a relaxed courtyard dining area at the back of the building.
The restaurant will serve a lunch and dinner à la carte menu, as well as a “non-traditional” Sunday brunch, which Ursini hopes will extend to Saturdays once the restaurant gets in full swing.
“A lot of restaurants now would tend not to give a descriptor to this kind of menu,” Ursini says, allowing InDaily a sneak peak ahead of next week’s restaurant launch.
“Our aim is just to make it accessible, approachable and delicious.”
Ursini has taken on an “overseer” role at the restaurant, having left the menu design in the hands of Orso head chef Will Doak, who formerly headed the Press Food & Wine kitchen. Doak’s brief was to create a menu that traversed niche culinary styles and would appeal to diners “of all levels”.
“I hate to box us in because I’ve been boxed for eight years,” Ursini says, reflecting on his association with Italian food.
“I opened up a polenta bar, [which is] a niched culinary cuisine, but what we’ve done here is brought in the scope to make it whatever we want it to be.
“I want this to be something where we have the freedom to change things up, [and] not feel limited with the food we serve coming from a set type of cuisine.”
Doak designed the menu, but Ursini still played a key role helping his head chef “simplify” the wording.
“We are seeing a trend with words on menus that confuse diners, so the way that we’ve written the menu is very simple, very easy, [and] we’ve only got a few elements on each dish,” Doak explains.
Starting with a small selection of “snack” options including smoked eel pâté with apple, chicken skin and muscat, and crab with mayonnaise, lime, chive and toasted brioche, the menu follows through with a selection of small entrées and “elegant” pasta dishes.
Large meal options include “eggplant over the fire” with hummus, sumac, taralli, parsley and lime pickle; Jack’s Creek Wagyu 6+ rump with Fourme d’Ambert (semi-hard French blue cheese) and watercress, and pork neck with Vermont maple, chicory, fennel and anchovy.
The menu rounds off with a selection of four seasonal desserts – described by Doak as “super fresh, fruity, elegant, beautiful and colourful” – including a smoked chocolate and coffee mousse with malted milk sorbet and butter crunch, and a ricotta parfait with honey crisp, lemon cream and fennel granita.
Accompanying the menu is an impressive wine list featuring more than 180 wines from local and international winemakers.
To curate the list, Ursini enlisted the help of renowned Australian wine writer Nick Stock, who put together a broad variety of young and established brands.
“We’ve tried to gear towards family-owned and operated wineries, both international and local, and also ethically sound producers,” Ursini says.
“We’ve decided to go through with a really sound Iberian and Spanish showing of wines, firstly because it works really well with our food, but also I think there is a bit of a gap in the Adelaide market for showcasing a really strong Spanish wine list.”
Orso will also place big emphasis on its brunch offering, which Doak says comprises “hearty and big portions” of breakfast dishes that stay clear of the current café brunch trends.
Split into three sections, the menu starts with a selection of different toasts with assorted toppings and continues with larger savoury and sweet dishes, including a milk bun with fried caciocavallo cheese, pickled onion, relish and egg; toasted ciabatta with blue swimmer crab, folded eggs and jalapeño hollandaise, and a coffee, salted caramel and chocolate sticky bun.
“We don’t want to focus on the ‘now’ trends of brunch in Adelaide – the poached eggs and avocado – they are all around us in the surrounding suburbs and venues and they do that well,” Doak says.
“What we have is a lovely and different menu that’s quite simple in its offering but does what it does well.”
Next door in the original section of the building (Orso is nestled in a 1980s renovated extension), is contemporary deli-cum-wine bar Willmott’s, which is named after the butchers shop that first operated in the building until the 1970s.
The deli will sell an impressive selection of smallgoods, cheeses and cooking essentials sourced from local and international suppliers, as well as preserves and pickles made at Ursini’s Mylor farm and kitchen.
Willmott’s will also operate as a cocktail bar serving charcuterie boards and a yet-to-be-finalised small-bar menu.
“It’s totally different to Orso – the identity is different, the application is different, but they support each other, obviously,” Ursini says.
“You can come into Willmott’s and eat all night on a small bar menu – charcuterie and drink – or you can come to Orso and end up at Willmott’s with a glass of wine.
“There is a wonderful interplay between the two and that’s a much better business model than just doing the one restaurant.”
The building’s original pressed-metal ceilings have been restored and rendering removed to expose the bluestone masonry in the interior.
Adorning the shelves are stacks of jars and hanging herbs and flowers, which bar manager Stephanie English hopes to use to create house-made cordials and teas.
“We’ll dry them out and make this selection of teas that we’ve decided to call ‘Up the Hill’ because all the boys go, ‘I’m going up the hill to Mylor’,” English says.
“There’s also all the preserves and pickles from Mylor that we’ll use in different ways, like the Ciao XO condiment that’s like an Italian version of a Chinese XO sauce.
“There are pickled mandarins with cinnamon and other spices that I’ve been pairing a lot with some really nice soft cheese and we’ve also been using the syrup to put in a couple of the cocktails.”
Ursini has touted Orso and Willmott’s as the “next biggest venue in the Adelaide restaurant scene”, saying he will draw on his experience opening Andre’s Cucina to run Orso as a more settled and established venue.
“This is a combination of nine years of doing this at the coal-face,” he says.
“We constantly see hospitality venues re-hashing themselves and I want this to be set – it will definitely evolve but there will be no re-hashing.
“This will be an entirely different beast, a place that will become the next biggest name in Adelaide.”
Orso will open to the public next Tuesday.
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