Known for its fine food and fabulous location, with a reputation built on warmth and attention to detail, Pilu at Freshwater is #restaurantgoals.
Run by husband-and-wife team Giovanni Pilu and Marilyn Annechini, within a year of opening in 2004, Pilu had earned two Chef Hats, and the abundant awards* for excellent food, wine and service keep rolling in.
At a recent International College of Management, Sydney (ICMS) Masterclass hosted by Melissa Hoyer at the ICMS Northern Beaches campus, Marilyn, who runs the front of house, and Pilu General Manager Ramsie Taylor shared their experience of running a restaurant through good times and tough times, and coming out the other side on top of their game, winning awards in 2022.
As a bit of background, Giovanni, originally from Sardinia, and Marilyn have been in business 18 years together. As the chef, Giovanni and the kitchen team take great care in sourcing the best of local, seasonal ingredients and when required, the highest quality products from Italy. The menu is typically Sardinian, re-interpreted using modern techniques whilst remaining true to tradition and regionality.
The result is that Pilu at Freshwater is a noted fine-dining restaurant creating Sardinian dishes with a modern twist. Located on an amazing site, in a heritage building right on the beachfront, Giovanni and Marilyn have gone on to launch other brands: Pilu at Home (opened during COVID), Pilu Esclisivo (fine dining only – also started during COVID), Baretto Nights, Bottarga and Aqua Fresca.
The Covid-19 pandemic, with associated staff shortages and a change in customer habits, served as a catalyst for growth and diversification, offering a lesson in creative responses to critical conditions. The staff market in hospitality is really tough right now (critical worker shortages). During COVID many of Pilu’s staff were overseas nationals who had to leave Australia for a period of time. Pilu have always aimed to be an employer of choice and work hard to attract a new generation of top quality hospitality workers.
At Pilu, the desire is to give customers an experience. Customers can ask about the ingredients; they can view a map of Sardinia and ‘journey’ to Sardinia during the meal. The staff are very knowledgeable about the food and its origins.
During the pandemic, when Pilu was able to open, meals at Pilu were like an ‘edible journey’ through the different regions of Sardinia through the ingredients. The experience of being able to ‘travel’ through food when it was impossible to do so owing to border restrictions was a unique experience.
People dine out for the experience – they need to feel welcomed. The customer is the most important person at that moment. Recognise birthdays and anniversaries for example. Or get the chef to bring a plate to the table. That adds to be excitement. Go that little bit further, remember the details.
Concept and design in a restaurant is hugely important. The look and feel of a place determines how customers feel when they walk in.
Marilyn believes that Sydney is ‘smashing it’ on an international level with regard to cuisine and the hospitality experience because Australians travel so much and are interested in different types of cuisines and areas.
Marilyn said the hats are really significant for the team, and customer reviews help them stay on their toes. The team replies to every review. Most of the time it’s positive but if not, they try to get the customer back and give them a better experience. There is always something constructive you can gain from reviews that are not necessarily positive.
Technology, Ramsie reckons. As a response to worker shortages (owing to a hangover from the pandemic), it’s a trend right now where in a lot of eateries you can order via QR code. However, she doesn’t think this is for fine dining which needs a more personal experience.
Huge. For example, Instagram showcases Pilu’s products and position, and customers share pictures to their own audience. Pilu also has a database and subscribers get a newsletter. Marilyn always checks the reservations, feedback and social media herself because she loves it.
1) A background studying hospitality is a huge advantage to success in the industry. Core competencies they look for in graduates include a good attitude, showing confidence and a willingness to learn, and business know-how, which helps staff progress to management.
2) Work many jobs in hospitality to gain experience in all sorts of areas within the industry. This gives you an understanding of your team and the operations when you are a manager. In larger hospitality groups, take advantage of the opportunity to try lots of different roles (for example, weddings, events, bar, reservations, PR).
3) Network with others in the sector, bounce ideas around and socialise.
4) Be patient. You need time to learn the sector and find out exactly what you want to do.
5) Work hard and learn the skills. There are no shortcuts, but once you have experience hospitality is an international sector so these skills are transferable geographically as well as in other sectors.
6) Know your customers. Build a loyal base of customers who will help you build your brand.
7) Invest in staff training, and in your growing knowledge base. Learn about ingredients, taste the food, go on trips.
To find out more about Pilu at Freshwater, click here.
Follow Pilu on Instagram here.
To find out more about the ICMS Bachelor of Hospitality Management, click here.
2022 – Gourmet Traveller WINE Magazine
-Best Food and Wine Matching
2005 – 2022 The Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide
– Awarded Two Chef’s Hats
2022 Delicious 100
-100 Most Delicious Restaurants in NSW
2012 -2022 Gourmet Traveller WINE Magazine
– Hall of Fame, National Winner
2009 – 2022 Australian Gourmet Traveller Restaurant Guide
– Two Stars
2015 The Weekend Australian Magazine
– HOT 50 – HOT Classic
2011 Gourmet Traveller WINE Magazine
– Wine List of the Year
2010 The Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide
– Wine List of the Year