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Mama Mia Maria

Sara Douglas joins the Capri set at the hottest joint in town, Da Maria.

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THE pizzas kept coming, blackened crusts with molten cheese and myriad toppings. A whole porchetta danced over the coals, salivating into the open fire, while two bars kept pace with a massive crowd of well-heeled guests at the opening of Bali’s latest destination dining experience, Da Maria.

These guys know how to throw a party.

It was never going to be anything but fabulous. When the man behind one of Sydney’s most iconic restaurants, Icebergs, meets Motel Mexicola’s dynamo team, the buzz could be heard well beyond Seminyak.

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When these guys go large, the roar is enormous. The opening party alone was two hours of dazzling pizza action and a bar handing over artisan cocktails à la Capri to well over 500 first nighters. And so it began. With modernistic retro interiors crafted by Roman interior designer, Lazzarini Pickering, a menu inspired by Maurice Terzini’s Italian heritage and the full force of the Motel Mexicola team behind them, Da Maria is officially a sensation.

To top it all off, ex-Sydney chef, Londoner Steven Skelley, has stepped up as Executive Chef and really there is not much that could go wrong.

Against a swirling sea of blue and white stripes offset with brilliant yellow, deep banquettes and delicate wrought iron furniture, the smart looking chefs ply their trade in an open kitchen that spans the length of the dining room. A bar at the front captures the mood from the start while a sweet courtyard out the back has a twinkling fountain and a second bar.

The mix of modern, Italian classics is sexy and skillful yet still rustic in simplicity.

Commencing with a range of Assagini (small bites) to tempt, one can imagine an operatic soundtrack, but not here, disco rules and somehow it fits.

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Chef Steven Skelley has had a big year, or more. Landing in Bali to take on seafood restaurant Urchin, Steven thought it would give him a chance to take a breather after a long stint at one of Sydney’s most loved restaurants, Pier in Rose Bay.

“Yep, the plan was to take things a little easier, spend time with my wife and young son and eventually put Urchin on the international map.”

Well, best laid plans and all. Steven was lured away by Mexicola’s Adrian Reed with plans to step up the menu at the Motel and launch three new destination restaurants. Not all at once of course, but things are moving fast.

Meanwhile his own ambitions to open a sourdough bakery, Farine, came to fruition.

One could (well, I could), write an entire story on the beautiful bubble-crusted bread, the divine doughnuts and brioche, croissant and more on display at Farine, but that will have to wait.

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As the Da Maria project got the go ahead, Steven was dividing his time between the bakery, the full speed ahead Motel Mexicola and overseeing the kitchen at Da Maria.

“It’s not what I expected but I wouldn’t change a thing, it’s mad but it’s great,” he says. His mornings now start at the bakery, where bubbling loaves of artisan sourdough loaves have the Canggu set in raptures, before heading off to Motel Mexicola to check the prep and the specials for the night before fronting up at Da Maria for service.

“There’s a little bit of pressure,” he laughs.

Once again he’s slipping into a steep learning curve. With two native Napoli pizzaiolos working the lava stone ovens and turning out brilliant pizzas on 24-hour fermented dough, he’s catching up real quick.

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“These guys are just brilliant, what they do with dough is insane, they take it to the next level,” he laughs. They also make for great eye candy.

Da Maria’s menu is choreographed by Maurice Terzini, who now has a string of restaurants and pubs across Sydney. The menu is short but rich with large and small options but it’s hard to go past the pizzas, which literally take 90 seconds from topping to bubbling, blackened temples of temptation. Priced from Rp90,000, it’s no wonder the crowds are streaming in.

Conscious that many guests will order pizza, the main dishes are sized and priced to please. If you can drag your gaze away from the pizza area, (be still my beating heart), the menu moves on to Assagini (small bites).

There are some classics and some fresh takes here that are hard to resist: take the fresh sardines, crumbed with hints of lemon, orange and almond and drizzled with EVO; the baby octopus crisped and served over overnight beans with red wine vinegar and pasley; wood-roasted beetroot dressed with shaved ricotta salata and julienned radichio, playing sweet, salty and bitter to great effect; and a crudo menu that is simply delicious.

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Arrosticini is also on the list; baby skewers of tender lamb roasted over the fire and served with lemon, rosemary and salt. Each of the Asagini items offers 5 pieces for Rp60,000 which isn’t too bad at all.

La Panarda is a plate that is based on traditional family feasts and although its been pared back a bit, it is still a feast. A selection of starters and crudo is followed by the little lamb skewers, followed up with pizza, porchetta and salad, and a refreshing finish of fresh watermelon. At Rp250 per head, you’ll get a pretty good taste of Da Maria with this.

There is a small raw menu and four mains that look delicious; four pastas, including one that is playing over in my mind, a braised beef shin sauce laid over pacheri and dressed with parmesan, it’s on my list! The pasta is imported from Italy, most of the ingredients come from Australia or are sourced locally.

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And the porchetta! That beast of pure pork pleasure, roasted over coals for long hours, laid to rest and then served traditionally with a bit of focaccia to wipe through the juices, that has to be for another visit. I’m making space for this despite assurances that it is light and beautiful.

Waiters bustle here, they don’t linger longer than necessary, the bar staff are set up to go before the doors open, dressed in variations of Maurice’s clothing line, Ten Pieces. The drinks are retro and artisanal with Campari and Aperol cocktails leading the way but plenty of herb-infused spirits to mix are on the menu and afters come in the shape of home-made coffee tequila and limoncello. And the beat goes on.

It’s a party waiting to happen, every night. Late night pizza+disco+bar equals happiness to a jaded crowd who are spoiled for choice. Mostly though, it’s hard to deny Da Maria’s freshness, its vitality and those pizzas, dream on baby.

www.damariabali.com

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