A distinguished Melbourne chef and a much-loved North Fitzroy restaurant and bar open a winning new chapter together.

Friendly salad? “She calls it that because she makes it without any bitter leaves,” explains Heidi Modra. The “she” in question here is none other than Philippa Sibley. We’re at Pinotta, the restaurant and bar on St Georges Road in Fitzroy North, founded by Modra. It’s been here since 2011, a true local favourite, and the arrival of Sibley marks the opening one of its most exciting chapters to date because, to put it simply, Philippa Sibley is a hell of a talented chef, and she’s cooking some seriously delicious food right now.

Bruschetta loaded with grilled bullhorn peppers, gooey stracciatella and marjoram. Garfish with garlicky skordalia and tomatoes agrodolce. Ink-black tonnarelli pasta laden with cuttlefish, octopus and fennel. A grilled scotch fillet with a mustard-tangy celeriac remoulade and pepper sauce. It’s food you want to eat.

And while Sibley is known as a chef with an exacting command of technique – she trained under Tansy Good at the original Tansy’s and was a co-founder of Est Est Est, both high temples of precision saucing and laser-fine knifework – at Pinotta it’s as much about what she doesn’t do as what she does that makes it special. Or at least that’s how she makes it look.

Philippa Sibley at Pinotta
Philippa Sibley at Pinotta

The presentation of her menus adds to this impression of effortlessness, written in a quick, elegant hand. She has a gift for composition that always seems to land on the side of simple rather than basic. The addition of sliced black grapes to beets, feta, witlof and walnuts. Quince in the duck ragù in a tangle of broad chestnut-pasta ribbons. Yes, yes and yes.

And then, of course, there’s dessert. I suspect Sibley is a bit over the Queen of Tarts epithet that has accompanied her work over the last decade or so. But hey, she’s a very, very gifted pastry chef, and until she stops with things like the inspired surprise of Montenegro in the mix with her spiced panna cotta with almond, sesame and orange, or pairing olive oil mousse with coffee cardamom caramel, I think it’s a cross she’s going to have to bear a little longer yet. Just the quality of the pastry alone on her apple and pear pie, served with Drambuie ice-cream and double cream puts most of her contemporaries in the shade. The near-total lack of tizziness and faff on her plates is something to savour.

Heida Modra
Pinotta owner Heidi Modra

Likewise, Modra runs her floor with unshowy aplomb, greeting passers-by out the front (roughly half of whom she seems to know by name), and pouring from a beautifully concise and considered list. By the glass she offers smart selections from afar (a nice little sparkler from Languedoc, say, or some very drinkable grillo), alongside some of Victoria’s best, including Schmölzer & Brown’s Obstgarten K riesling, Chalmers falanghina, Fighting Gully Road’s sangio and the deeply delicious Old Dog New Tricks blend of sangiovese and grenache blanc that Micah Hewitt makes at Defialy, which Modra serves lightly chilled.

This is Heidi Modra and Pip Sibley doing their thing. This is somewhere you want to eat and drink right now. This is Pinotta circa 2024.

Pinotta, lunch Thu-Sat, dinner and drinks Wed-Sat, 32 Best St, Fitzroy North, 03 9481 3393, pinotta.com, @pinottabartable

By Pat Nourse