Simone Ramjee

Talking Purple Pit and Melbourne’s Best Neighbourhoods with Local Icon and Restaurateur Maurice Terzini

A love affair for post-punk Melbourne.

With each passing year, restaurateur Maurice Terzini continues to expand his influence, proving that a passion for product, service, and community knows no bounds. And with each new venture he embarks on, he leaves a mark on the culinary landscape of Australia, cementing his status as one of the country's most influential figures in the world of Italo Oz dining.

Terzini's arrival in Melbourne marked the beginning of an era that would see the fabric of café culture in this city forever change. It was here, within the vibrant streets of Chapel Street in South Yarra, that he, along with his father Arnaldo, decided to sow the seeds of what would bloom into a legacy of this culinary institution—Caffe e Cucina.

With an unwavering appreciation for the neighbourhoods that embrace his iconic ventures, Maurice has become a local savant when it comes to understanding the pulse of the precincts, the local community, and knowing just how to appeal to the culinary appetite of the area.

As Maurice dominates the Melbourne and Sydney culinary scene for close to four decades, he shares his story and insight on his two favourite loves, Melbourne and Sydney.

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You and your family immigrated to Melbourne from Italy. What year did you first come to Australia?

Both my parents migrated during the 1950s from a village less than 10 kilometres apart but met in Melbourne. I was born in Richmond, Melbourne. During the 1970s, my parents started to feel a burden of assimilation and decided to return to Italy to live in Pescara, a city very close to their villages. It was the end of 1974 when we all moved to Italy and lived there till the early 1980s. The following years saw us return a number of times.

What neighbourhood did you grow up in?

Firstly, Bentleigh and Moorabbin; then, as I grew older, my fascination and love affair for post-punk Melbourne took me to St Kilda and Fitzroy. 

You opened your very first restaurant in 1988 with your father, Arnaldo, called ‘Caffe e Cucina’. It ended up being an institution on the beloved Chapel Street in South Yarra.

What did you love about the neighbourhood and why did you choose South Yarra to open your very first venue?

At the time, Chapel Street, and particularly that end, was still quite bohemian, and some friends had opened some cool retail stores like Fiona Scanlan, and Galaxy rentals were still affordable. We wanted to be independent from Lygon Street, which was quite commercialised as Little Italy. We wanted to be the cool kids on the block, representing contemporary second-generation Italians.

Locay reveals the best boutique hotels that see guests live like a local. If you were staying and dining in South Yarra now, is there a boutique hotel you have enjoyed or would recommend to friends and family?

I used to stay at the Como in its day; it was super elegant, but if we were talking this time around, it would have to be The Olsen, Melbourne, an Art Series hotel where you will find yourself surrounded by the beautiful artwork by Australian artist and my dear friend the late Dr John Olsen.

Ok, and the all-important question. If you got one meal in South Yarra - where would you dine?

1000000000 % France-Soir!

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"We wanted to be the cool kids on the block, representing contemporary second-generation Italians"

You had a short stint at Il Bacaro on Little Collins Street. What did you love about this location?

It was in the middle of the city but still untapped. I have always been good at picking locations. There was a strip club next door, and it had an art punk vibe about it. Once we opened, the late Terence Conran saw the potential, and Georges was reborn.

In 1996, you launched the Melbourne Wine Room, which was located on one of the most popular dining streets and neighbourhoods in Melbourne, Fitzroy St, St Kilda. This was one of the most influential venues you have opened.

What were your most precious memories of the MWR, and why was it so influential in its time?

It changed pub culture forever. I believe we brought the notion of quality to a pub. Wine-wise, it broke all the rules of the time, using crown seals, chilling reds, and early-release wines that were fun and smashable when this was not common at all. St Kilda was in the last days of creative energy. Actors, directors, musicians, artists, and producers all joined forces in the magical wine room.

You then began to head north to hit the culinary scene in Sydney with your first venture, Otto in Woolloomooloo, then moved on to experience the breathtaking views of one of the most iconic beaches in the world, Bondi Beach, with John Singleton showing you the venue, Icebergs, for the very first time. What were your thoughts during this moment?

The opportunity to finally showcase my work in Sydney and internationally.

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Dominating the neighbourhood in Bondi Beach, then saw you open North Bondi Italian, La Macelleria, and then Da Orazio Pizza + Porchetta. What made Bondi so special to you?

Bondi was really about the ocean at the time, the surf punk community, the electronic music scene, the diversity in status and wealth, the backpackers, the mixed cultures... It is changing very rapidly now.

You have your finger on the pulse when it comes to opening new venues in neighbourhoods. You have moved into the urban streets of Surry Hills, the back streets of Rushcutters Bay, and now the cosmopolitan streets of Potts Point.

Does a neighbourhood play an important role and influence your decision-making process when opening a new venue?

Yes, if I feel a connection, I know I can deliver an authentic product.

Years later, you now find yourself back in your hometown of Melbourne with the newly opened late night cocktail bar Purple Pit, located on the corner of Queen and Collins Street. Where did your inspiration come from when creating the PP and what made you decide on this location?

The inspiration came from Joe Jones (my business partner) and my love for hotel bars and post-punk, two completely different worlds.

What’s your perfect day in Melbourne look like? Who and where would you visit?

Mario’s or Pellegrini's Espresso Bar, no fuss Italian-style caffe. A walk through the Botanical Gardens, a tram to Smith Street, then off Carlton, see the boys at the Carlton Wine Room or Napier Quarter in Fitzroy, quick pasta with Ronnie at Di Stasio Pizzeria... Collins Street stay at the Windsor Hotel: old school but big rooms and windows that open!!! Finally, a long dinner with Jean Paul at France-Soir!

Top Boutique Stays

Adelphi Hotel | Flinders Lane

Coppersmith Hotel | South Melbourne

The Olsen Hotel | South Yarra

The Prince | St Kilda

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