Robb Interview: Nigel Ward, Head Chef Uccello Sydney
After closing the doors on the much-loved Sagra, Ward was quickly snapped up by Merivale to begin an exciting new chapter.
Over the last decade Uccello, poised poolside of ivy’s famous ‘PoolClub’, has cemented its place as a Sydney stalwart with the Italian diner a go-to for a sunny knees-up.
During its Covid-19 forced closure, the team at Merivale swiftly acquired the talents of Nigel Ward, pasta-making extraordinaire and former chef-owner of Sagra, tasking him with refreshing Uccello.
Now, with a renewed focus, Uccello and Ward look to bring the Italian coastline to the rooftop restaurant’s menu, think Cape Morton scarlet prawns with native finger lime, spaghetti alla chitarra, vongole, chilli and bottarga, Ulladulla ruby snapper in cartoccio, served with mussels, fennel, salsa verde all washed down with an Italian leaning drinks list or Provence Rosé bottles (in 6L formats no less).
Before the reopening of Uccello – expected late October – Robb Report sat down with Ward to talk through his new appointment and his aspirations for the new project that’s primed for the summer ahead.
Robb Report: You were trained under Sean Moran and Logan Campbell, what do you think were the greatest lessons you learnt there?
Nigel Ward: I synthesised everything I learnt from Sean and Logan to create my own style of cooking. Sean impressed on me an insistence on perfection and a commitment to provenance. My time with Logan taught me a lot of subtle Italian influences and techniques that I built on further through my travels in regional Italy.
RR: As the former chef-owner of Sagra, safe to say you know your way around pasta dough, how does your expression of pasta differ at Uccello?
NW: It’s actually not that different. I think what I’m most excited about though is having a big team so that we can get really intricate with the pastas we’re making. We’re putting pici on the menu, for example – it’s a rustic, handmade rolled pasta, like a fat version of spaghetti.
RR: Uccello has been around a while now, what do you think gives Uccello it’s staying power?
NW: It’s Merivale’s flagship Italian on top of ivy, overlooking the pool. It’s the whole experience – you are immediately transported out of your everyday and all your worries wash away the moment you’re sipping your rosé. Sydney is craving summer and the city is starting to buzz again. We’re excited for our guests to celebrate what we have all been missing most this year – great food in a sun-soaked spot next to the water.
RR: And how do you feel about your new appointment to Uccello as well as joining the Merivale umbrella?
NW: It’s something that wasn’t necessarily planned or expected but I’m really excited about it. It’s been such a joy just to cook again. I’m finding it hard to sleep at the moment because my mind is constantly buzzing with new ideas for the menu. I can’t wait to lead a team again and pass on that knowledge to the next generation of chefs like Sean and Logan did with me.
RR: How do you hope to bring the Italian coastline to Sydney?
NW: By harnessing old recipes and techniques that I learnt from my travels throughout Italy and bringing in a strong emphasis on seafood. One of the hero dishes is a lobster tagliatelle with eastern rock lobster and shellfish oil that is shared between two people, just like you would love to eat sitting in a restaurant overlooking the Mediterranean in Italy, or our spaghetti alla chitarra with vongole, chilli and bottarga.
RR: Provenance is at the core of your cooking, where does that come from and what does it look like on the plate?
NW: I love to champion great produce and one of the best things about working with Merivale is that I have access to some super-premium produce, but they have also given me the freedom to work with small-scale local producers who I know are amazing and also need the support this year. People need to start focusing more on what’s growing in their own backyard and we can learn a lot (especially this year) from small-scale farmers who grow all their own stuff and are relatively self-sufficient.
We’ll be calling out a lot of local NSW producers on our menu. I’m all about minimising waste and getting everything I can out of the one ingredient and using it across my menu in different ways and in different dishes. Eventually, we also want to start using whole beasts which really ties into this philosophy and also making our own salami, bread and cheeses.
RR: I understand there’s an apprenticeship program you’ll be heading – is fostering the next generation of talent something you’re particularly passionate about?
NW: Yes, very passionate and I’m so excited to teach some young guys (or girls) some new skills again. It’s always been a big part of the kitchens I’ve worked in and run. We have a really big team at Uccello with 14 chefs on the roster and some of them being apprentices