Owner of Bondi Icebergs, The Dolphin and now DaMaria (Bali)
Maurice, you’ve operated Bondi Icebergs for fifteen years, last June you opened the new look Dolphin Hotel in Surry Hills and then in November you launched Da Maria in Bali. I’m also hearing noise of a Bali beach club and maybe a hotel. Is it fair to say that today you’re more of an entrepreneur than a restauranteur?
Mate, I made that decision five years ago, probably even longer. I was taught by my father that one of the most important skills that a waiter should have is patience. I lost that skill because when I was on the floor I was thinking about other things and so my patience was lost. I realized that, having been a waiter since I was eleven, it was time to move on and today my inspiration comes from people like Ian Schrager.
I’ve spoken with Carl Pickering (the architect of Icebergs and Da Maria) on numerous occasions about doing Hotel Terzini which is possibly my ultimate goal. We talk often about where it should be, about what it could be, if it should be one or perhaps many. What I do know is that it will be a mix of hotel, restaurant and bar, that is something I am striving for. The other goal, perhaps more personally, is to get to a point where I am able to run multiple venues really, really well. I know I can run one – with my eyes closed, my hands tied behind my back and thrown into a cupboard.
None of your establishments look the same, they’re not playing to some kind of brand identity
No two of my restaurants ever need be the same since they each have my DNA. So we can have Da Maria, Da Luigi, Da Mario, for instance. All these tongue-in-cheek, really woggy names. I love that, it’s an idea that could travel. Right now we’re looking at opening a really low-fi pizzeria in Chiangu, Bali, with everything in paper cups and boxes, a surfer-punk vibe, everything black and white, very Newcastle. And yes we’ve also been looking at another site for a beach club. We had a site, but that fell through because of the developer. Long story. So now we’re looking at a site in Seminyak, Bali. I’ve thought about an Icebergs pool club in L.A. We’ve looked at a site in Mykonos, we’ve considered Ibiza. Basically, the idea with Icebergs expansion is that we get to go to places we really want to hang out.
Are you fleeing Sydney’s lockout laws? While you were away in Bali last time, Mike Baird resigned.
To be honest, the lockout laws don’t affect our business since we close at midnight anyway. So my vocal support for the Keep Sydney Open movement is not a business decision, it’s a matter of principle. I think back to the days when I worked with my father, the way our relationship after work was based around going out. Once I’d reached drinking age we’d go out after work to bars and clubs and spend a lot of father-son time, going over the events of the day, debrief the service, meet up with other restauranteurs, other waiters. I learnt so much in those hours after work, and now it’s been taken away from so many people.
It’s incredibly frustrating that they didn’t look for alternatives. Especially when you consider that a city like Melbourne which is only an hour and a half away manages to have an incredibly vibrant night life, that stays alive and thrives 24/7. In a sophisticated city, in an educated society, there has to be an alternative.
Your architect of choice is Rome-based Australian Carl Pickering of Lazzarini Pickering. So, a Sydney entrepreneur working with an architect in Rome on a site in Bali – and perhaps in Los Angeles or Mykonos. Talk me through that.
Basically, after all these years working together – Carl began designing Icebergs in 2000 – we have such a good working relationship, it’s gone past careful introductions and baby talk. We can get straight to the point. We don’t need to hang out together and get to know one another’s likes and dislikes because we worked that all out years ago. That’s a very important part of the process when you start working with an architect. I want to know what they wear, what they eat, what music turns them on. We’re in the business of selling a lifestyle so I want to know the person who is designing the lifestyle I’m trying to sell. We’ve got incredibly similar tastes. Carl likes all the daggy old Roman trattorias I like, so it just works between us. For us, daggy can be really cool. Neither of us likes design which is really over the top. We usually start with a thousand ideas, but the goal is always to reduce them to one. When I start to work with Carl on a gig, we start by talking about the food and the wine before we begin discussing the design. The design is there to enhance the concept, not the other way around,
Interview by Stephen Todd