Memories of
la strada ristorante

“The best corner in Macleay St" was how one newspaper described the site of La Strada, thanks to the restaurant of the same name that occupied the spot. It was the place where Naples-born owner and chef Giovanna Toppi would cement her status as the unequivocal godmother of Italian cuisine in Sydney. Arriving in Australia in the 1950s with no money and no English, Giovanna started out washing dishes, then learnt her craft and worked her way up at restaurants including Primo’s CHK and Ettore Prossimo’s Buona Sera. In 1980 CHK, she opened La Strada at 95 Macleay St. Giovanna’s daughter Paola, who later worked in the restaurant and continues the family tradition as owner of Sydney’s Toppi restaurant, said, "When she created La Strada, her main goal was to be the best and the most famous and the most attractive to all the big movie stars. It was black tie service, there was a dress code, and there was never any paparazzi, so they could do anything they want – although Mum never put up with anything from anyone. ”

Thanks to the proximity of the Sebel Townhouse just down the road, her dream came true, and the restaurant swiftly became a haunt for visiting international celebrities and especially musicians, including Nelson Riddle, Shirley Bassey, Duran Duran, Wham!, Elton John and lyricist Bernie Taupin, who dubbed Giovanna "the queen of Sydney eateries" in his 2023 autobiography. Tennis players including Ivan Lendl, John McEnroe and Boris Becker would come in for light meals before their night-time matches, local legends such as Barry Humphries or Carla Zampatti would hold court, while a thousand business deals were done by Australian tycoons over Steak Diane and after-dinner cigars behind the bronze blinds. On any given night, the tiny restaurant of just 11 tables might play host to police chiefs, gangsters, lawyers, politicians, private eyes and millionaires – all finding neutral territory as they savoured Giovanna’s delicious Italian dishes. – By Paola Toppi

  • Phil Collins

  • George Michael

  • Bruce Springsteen

  • Rod Stewart

  • Mike Jagger

  • Cindy Lauper

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