Maurice Terzini has been a stalwart on the Australian dining scene for more than three decades. This entrepreneurial restaurateur started small with a café in Melbourne in 1988 that become the iconic Caffè e Cucina, and burst onto the world stage in 2002 with the opening of Icebergs Dining Room & Bar — a fine dining mecca that sits sentinel over Bondi Beach. Yet despite his premium restaurants in Sydney and Byron Bay, Maurice’s passion lies in the pursuit to democratize dining. At the heart of this notion is his unfaltering commitment to quality. Born to Italian parents and spending formative years by the Adriatic Sea, this devotion to quality is ingrained and extends beyond hospitality to successful ventures in fashion and events. His creativity is limitless and his drive infectious. We chat to Maurice about chasing ideas born from big nights and his nuggets for exploring unexpected gems in Sydney.
On your early inspiration
My sister is three years older, she went to art school, was a real hippie and studied textiles. She was my idol. She really helped to establish who I am today and guided my musical taste. We also lived in Italy in the 70s. It was probably the most radical period in the last 50 years for Europe. There was the rise of socialism and the rebellion against the church. My family allowed us to open our minds and accept what was happening around us, which became very influential — for our social values in particular. When I moved back to Melbourne in the early 80s I was also fortunate to have family involved in the St Kilda punk scene. So it was a number of different events that just by osmosis impacted my values.
On leaving Melbourne for Sydney
I moved to Sydney in 1999. I’d been traveling here on and off during the 90s, while I was running the Melbourne Wine Room and the Snake Pit with Karen Martini and a few others. It was very successful, but I then went through some personal issues and took a few years off. Then Lang Walker approached me to come up to Sydney. We opened Otto at Woolloomoolo Wharf in 2000, and then Icebergs in 2002 — and that’s when I made my professional mark. Sydney was completely different to Melbourne in that at that time, the city had the corporate money — or the corporate card. I went from running a large pub that had a 60 seater restaurant, to running a 160 seater restaurant for people with excess money to spend. It was something we hadn’t really experienced in Melbourne. I fell in love with the aspect of sales for our restaurant, there was an intensity and excitement around the business.
On hitting reset with the move
I found a balance in Sydney that Melbourne couldn’t give me, and I think that came with the ocean. There is a vastness to the view, it’s like looking into infinity. I really fell in love with that. I’d spent 20 years of my life waking up in the afternoon. But living only during the night wasn’t going to work in Sydney. Moving here gave me back a little of my day life. It created a nice balance and really reset me for the next stage of my career.
On North Bondi’s cultural influence
We lived in Italy on the Adriatic Sea and I picked up surfing in 1972, then I didn’t pick up a board until I came back to Sydney. I’m not very good at it, but the urban surf culture is something that I first saw in Sydney and I thought it was quite beautiful. It was a surf, punk culture and I fell in love with it.
I was also very close to the Ksubi boys just as they started their careers and they couldn’t give a shit about anything — they were just doing what they were doing. Pav (Steve Pavlovic) had also just started Modular Records. North Bondi was this melting pot of all of these creative people. I was very fortunate to have participated in that. Those five or six years in North Bondi’s history really developed a key style of creativity. It played an incredible part in Sydney’s electronic music output. The Presets, Cut Copy and Sneaky Sound System had all just started and we’d hang out and eat and drink. Their impact can still be heard today. There was also a strong gay community here. These communities all existed together, giving a lot of dynamism to the city.
I found a balance in Sydney that Melbourne couldn’t give me, and I think that came with the ocean. There is a vastness to the view, it’s like looking into infinity.
On the importance of quality in creativity
The audio book by Ryan Holiday really helped me shape how we made decisions during Covid. One quote that stuck with me was that ‘quality is a marathon’. A lot of people aren’t dedicated to the commitment that it takes to run a quality restaurant. When shit hits the fan and there are decisions to be made, many will make those around commercial decisions, rather than quality decisions. It takes a big effort to dedicate yourself to quality, and then to turn quality into a commercial success, particularly in the food industry. Quality is expensive, it requires complete commitment and this does not always translate to commercial success. Part of our role as restaurateurs is to provide quality for the masses, free of elitism. Quality should branch out to the masses. This pursuit for quality is a marathon and I’m hoping that Icebergs survives. We realised early on that Icebergs was going to be an international restaurant that was iconic to Sydney and at the end of the day we were just the custodians. It will go to someone else one day, but when we leave it, we’ll leave it with the reputation of being a quality venue.
On trusting your ideas and taking the risk
For Caffè e Cucina in Melbourne, I had $1000 and my business partner had $1000. We just thought — let’s go and open a café, listen to Coltrane and serve some coffees. There was no business plan, no budget, we didn’t know where we were going to be in a couple of years’ time. That’s what I’m trying to pass on to the younger people in the industry: the courage to go and start something. I know that today’s climate is much more challenging and the quality and competition has increased 100 fold. But to believe in your gut and have the rawness to go for an idea is something that is really important. The hospitality industry tends to be very formulated, and the ones that leave a mark are the ones who have that rawness. So with Cucina, we just thought ‘fuck it, let’s do it,’ and then it grew with us over a period of time. Not having too much of a plan with your first business isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
On being a catalyst for the community
I received a wonderful letter about a month ago from an old client, an artist who frequented the café. He sent a beautiful new sketch and wrote me a letter saying how important his years at Caffè e Cucina were, how they shaped his life and that he’d met his partner there and got married. Now I’m in the third or fourth generation of clients, with people who’d met at Cucina, had kids, now their kids’ kids are my clients. It’s pretty special and gives you the energy to keep going when you’re lacking the motivation.
When shit hits the fan and there are decisions to be made, many will make those around commercial decisions, rather than quality decisions. It takes a big effort to dedicate yourself to quality, and then to turn quality into a commercial success.
On your next venture
I’ve been going to Byron Bay (far north coast of New South Wales) for 30 years and I’ve seen it change and grow. However, you can still see whatever side of the town you want — hippie Byron, glamorous Byron. There has also been a shift in F&B. While the organic message has always been there, the quality and delivery hasn’t. There are now better producers, farmers and growers who are adding to that philosophy and introducing some really beautiful biodynamic farming. But what am I going to do to add to it? I’m hoping that we have the courage to add something really low-fi to Byron, that has incredible product and is a lot of fun. Bring a bit more of a city vibe into a country town.
On ideas born through big nights
One of my skills is being able to follow through on ideas that are formed during a big night. The Icebergs’ New Year’s Day party started on a big night with Sneaky Sound System, and now it’s in its 20th year and is considered to be an iconic Sydney party. So Ten Pieces started as an idea with Ian Nessick — he had premises we could work from and access to tailors. I shouldn’t say this but it was basically called Ten Pieces because we were so hammered by the end of the night that we only came up with 10 pieces. The next day we jumped on the phone and it was 10 days later that we had our first pattern, then six weeks later it was in the store. The brand is a bit of a co-op with a number of different people working on it and getting what they want out of it. For me it’s a branding exercise, it’s content creation and doing something different outside of restaurants. So fashion will hopefully be part of what I do in the future.
On finding inspiration in Sydney
I’m finding Parramatta an absolute gold mine when it comes to inspiration. It really is the most ethnic part of Sydney and there’s an element of toughness on the street. It also has a youthful energy that’s really inspiring when it comes to ideas for Ten Pieces and other fashion collaborations I’m working on. Don’t be intimidated by Parramatta. Go, walk down the streets, get a haircut at one of the Lebanese barbers, eat some incredible food.
It really is an incredible developing suburb. It will be the center of Sydney in years to come in a way. So while it’s still raw, it has potential. And it doesn’t really feel like you’re in Sydney. The Powerhouse is moving out, there’s another large gallery moving there, there are great parklands, I have a restaurant out there. I really enjoy being out in the west.
I’m finding Parramatta an absolute gold mine when it comes to inspiration. It really is the most ethnic part of Sydney and there’s an element of toughness on the street.
On where to drink
If you want a real punky, heavy metal night out — which can be quite fun — go to Frankie’s. It’s open all hours, until about 3am. It’s as raw as you can get. Maybe Sammy is a great bar for an American experience. It’s based on a hotel lobby sort of feel and it’s one of the best bars in the world. P&V Wine + Liquor Merchants is a wine store–cum–wine bar. It’s these smaller places that I find offer incredibly great experiences in Sydney. Then of course I’d put the Icebergs Bar in there for sunset drinks.
On where to eat
I have been going to Harris Farm Markets and purchasing a little prosciutto, mozzarella, and bread. Then grabbing a picnic blanket and heading up to Marks Park, where the playground is. It’s literally just behind Icebergs and overlooks Bondi Beach — it’s an outlook that would usually be a $40m view, but it’s a public space. There’s a picnic table and you can eat your lunch on that bench. You are in heaven. I’ve done it three times in the last two weeks. When you think about where to eat, there are always a number of favorite restaurants. But to really enjoy Sydney you need to head outdoors, like Marks Park. Especially if you don’t have the money, because not everyone has the wealth. I’m a big fan of public spaces and what they provide for the broader population. We tend to forget their importance.
To really enjoy Sydney you need to head outdoors… I’m a big fan of public spaces and what they provide for the broader population.
On more free outdoor activities
The Bondi to Bronte Walk is fantastic. All of the coastal walks are quite good and we’re spoilt for choice. I’ve also discovered the Parramatta Walk along the river is pretty exciting. South Bondi Beach is my favorite beach, right down in the corner. There’s a concrete footpath just before you get to Icebergs with a few steps. I sit on those steps and catch the morning sun and it really doesn’t get much better than that.
On Sydney in one word
Challenging. Sometimes the city can be very challenging.
food and drink
food and drink
food and drink
food and drink