Once the height of fine dining in Wollongong, Lorenzo’s Diner has closed its doors.
In its place, owner Lorenzo Pagnan will on Friday open The Cheeky Fig.
Instead of long lunches, expensive Italian degustations, crystal glasses and linen napery, the new Mediterranean eatery will have mismatched crockery, meals for sharing and a number of dishes which come with a single digit price tag.
The dramatic change comes after more than 15 years of trade for Pagnan’s eponymous diner, and was driven by what he says are shifts in food trends, dining styles and the frequency with which people go out to tea.
“There’s been a huge Asian influence in Australian dining, where you always share, and an acceptance of things like sushi trains where you just pick at will what you’d like to eat,” Mr Pagnan said.
“People are more accustomed now to just helping themselves and trying different things and that’s what happens all across the Mediterranean.
“In the early 2000s, Friday and Saturday were the big going out nights. But now you can get just as many people in on a Tuesday or Wednesday night if you’re at the right price level – and people aren’t always looking for a big dinner.”
Earlier this month, for the “last supper” at his upmarket eatery, Mr Pagnan laid out linen tablecloths, crisp cloth napkins, double settings and rows of crystal glasses in celebration of Lorenzos’ heyday.
“It just looked beautiful, but it also reestablished in my mind that we have really changed from what I set out to do,” Mr Pagnan said.
“In some ways, I didn’t even recognise my own restaurant anymore.”
Mr Pagnan said there would “always be a place” for some fine dining venues, but said he was ready to move beyond special occasion food.
“I just want to serve food,” he said.
“I don’t want people to wait six months for people to come and see me – if you’re hungry on a Tuesday I want you to come in for a couple of pastas and a nice tagine.”
“Over the last year or so I’ve tried to introduce the [more casual] mezze style of dining, but because I was under the moniker of Lorenzo’s Diner people came expecting this level of fine dining,”
“The only thing to do was to start afresh.”
The Cheeky Fig is due to open on April 28, and will serve food from all over the Mediterranean, including North African and Middle Eastern countries like Tunisia, Turkey, Algeria, Morocco and Israel.
French bouillabaisse and Greek spanakopitta line up next to Tunisian spicy calamari, Turkish pilaf and Algerian deep-fried sardines.
Mr Pagnan’s native Italian cuisine also features heavily, with pasta platters, cheese and antipasto on the menu.