On our way to meet Queen Viv at Piccolo Bar in Kings Cross (said to be the oldest cafe in Kings Cross), Queen Viv calls my mobile to tell me to switch Radio FBI on. For who else is being interview but Vittorio, the face of Piccolo Bar, the tiny, cozy little cafe which has taken up residence in Kings Cross since 1950. Unfortunately just as the interview is starting we go through the tunnel and miss most of it. Ah well, it only makes us more interested in meeting up there. It's been about 15 years since my last visit.
We walk past the tables and Vittorio is outside giving me a good look up and down as if I've fallen from a spaceship. I learn that this is how he looks at all new customers and that he is certainly a character. There's a $3 minimum (how these things charm me) and when my husband comes in, he does the same looking at him closely from the side, head cocked horizontally. It's a tiny space, much like the name suggests and in its heydey they crammed 25 people into the inner cafe, which if you've visited, you'll see that it's quite a feat.
Vittorio's eccentric charm isn't lost on us and he floats about collecting plates and taking orders. He playfully and dramatically scolds a young girl on a mobile phone telling her to get off the "devil's tool" and proudly says that he doesn't own one. I ask him about the numerous Cate Blanchett pictures dotting the landscape and he clasps his hands together and assumes a dreamy countenance "Oh I Looooove her! I adore her, she's like an angel" he trills. And no she hasn't visited ;)
We make our order and the chef cooks everything one at a time. Regulars file in and get a familiar greeting. A Matthew McConaughey lookalike says that he feels like soup so the chef gives him some soup to taste. Vittoria stops by our table and in an avuncular gesture, plonks down some second hand books for us and asks us if we'd like to take some books home with us. His charm offensive is taking effect.
Queen Viv orders a toasted turkish bread with artichokes,avocado, mushroom and cheese.
My own omelette with ham, mushroom and cheese is perfectly done and deliciously cheesy with lots of filling. I enjoy the omelette a lot.
_Caesar salad _with chicken
My husband's caesar salad with chicken is missing the dressing which the chef has prewarned us of that and it is a cos and tomato salad, not quite caesar but with freshly cooked breast schnitzel he hungrily devours it.
For dessert my husband chooses to go next door (part of Piccolo cafe) and chooses some ice cream flavours: Biscottini, blood orange and fig brandy. They're delicious, particularly the Biscottini and the blood orange.
Queen Viv and I share the orange and almond cake. It's like a regular sponge rather than the moist almond meal and orange rind version.
In between his duties, Vittorio with his signature bracelets sits down and sorts through his paperwork and letters and laments the heat. He offers me a bell for my door which I accept, another eccentrically charming gesture and I took it as it was indeed quite nice! He shows us some books he appears in as a passing comment. There is one "People of the Cross" which is a fantastic read where Vittorio appears on the cover. We learn more about Vittorio Bianchi, the cappucino maestro and how he has adorned the walls of his favourite celebrities with 29 photos of James Dean (although some pictures get pinched by overeager fans).
To Vittoria, the small space in Piccolo means that there is no room for people to be strangers and that he often plays matchmaker between patrons (although he admits that as far as match making goes for himself, it's a disaster). In fact he has seen some patrons get married after being matched up by him and some of them come back thank him although he says "Some come back and curse me for it".
He has a fascinating past and if you are interested I'd strongly suggest trying to get a hold of the book or visiting the Piccolo and asking him to see the book. Vittorio was born in 1934 in Italy ("The same year as Brigitte Bardot, same as Sophia Loren. Look at them and look at me"), and whilst he doesn't remember much for his childhood he tells that at age 8 was raped by an American soldier. He didn't know it was wrong at that age and time so he brought the soldier home to meet his family where the soldier gave them all chocolate. To him that event didn't scar him but poverty and the war did and to this day he hates fireworks. Fast forward to having migrated here to Australia by ship at age 14 in search of greener pastures and a life in the cabaret, on stage, theatre and a radio show on JJJ called "Voice of the Piccolo". Vittorio is a keen storyteller.
He started working at the Piccolo about 30 years ago back when he first met the late owner Osvaldo who purchased the Piccolo after a win on the horses, and he says that he will work there until the day that he dies. He witnessed the Cross when it had a more Bohemian and villagey atmosphere where people were kinder and looked out for each other. We witness Vittoria giving a patron a tea on the house whilst we are there and of course there is the giving of the books and the bells to us. Indeed in his life, he says that if someone asks him for $5 and he only has $5 on him, he will give it and despite the fact that he lives alone, he always seems to have someone staying with him, sometimes for years. "If there's room, you should give up your space" he says.
The Piccolo certainly has its fans from the poor to the celebrities and he has had the Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Peter Allen, Nick Cave, Marianne Faithfull, Mel Gibson, Richard E. Grant, Akira Isogawa, Malcolm & Lucy Turnbull (haha!), Liv Ullman, Jeremy Irons and Brett Whiteley all come through. We hear on FBI that Vittorio had no idea who the the Red Hot Chilli Peppers were and chatted to them and asked them what they did for a living. In fact there is such a long list of names, they are sorting into each individual letter on the website in a name dropper section. His closing words in the book are "Love is the strongest force. it keeps us alive. I'm always looking for it in every person-different kinds of love".
When we leave, we wave goodbye to Vittoria and exit to the picture of Cate Blanchett. Of course.
6 Roslyn Street, Kings Cross
Tel: +61 (02) 9368-1356