Growing up in the back of a Pizzeria in Buenos Ares, Mariano Perpignano says he was destined to cook.
His Italian father did try to talk him out of it, by stressing the sacrifices he himself had made. And it is true, Mariano now admits, that
his father was rarely home, and that he often stayed the night on a makeshift bed in the restaurant, rather than making the long trek
back to his family.
Still, the young Mariano was passionate about food and cooking from a young age and with dreams of travelling to Europe (where his father was from) he undertook a chef’s apprenticeship in Argentina, and immediately scored a job that would prepare him for cooking in any kitchen in the world.
The name of this first restaurant was Maraña; a new enterprise, which at the time Mariano was there, became one of the favourites of Buenos Ares. With ten chefs working in the kitchen, these were exciting and challenging times—high pressure conditions with an emphasis on excellence and innovation.
‘I have very good memories about those days,’ he says. ‘Maraña went off. It was one of the most popular places to eat at that time. It was there that I learned everything about working in big kitchens.’ But when the opportunity arose, Mariano headed for Europe, and Barcelona, where he had a friend who was running a restaurant. He worked there for a while, before getting a job cooking for an elite catering company preparing feasts in Spanish castles, and even a banquet in the Sagrada Familia.
‘Here I was working for the high society of Spain,’ says Mariano, who now found himself immersed in the European food culture he had always craved.
Of course all adventures must come to an end, so eventually he returned home to Argentina. But not long after a new adventure began when he received a message from an Australian chef who he had met in one of the kitchens he had worked in. ‘He basically said, I have a job for you in Manly, Sydney if you want it. So I went.’
Mariano travelled to Australia and was sponsored by the Café Stein in Manly and granted a two year working visa. He managed the busy restaurant for two years, before heading north from Sydney on a holiday.
‘I was going to Cairns, but I stopped in Byron Bay on the way, says Mariano. ‘And it was there that I met Angie.’ Fast forward to 2014. Mariano and Angie are husband and wife, and living in The Channon. They have two little boys Tavio (8) and Zayden (6) and live a semi sustainable lifestyle on acres surrounded by 120 acres of bushland.
Five days a week Mariano travels to Ballina where is the Head Chef at the Point Restaurant—an exceptionally beautiful place to dine, perched on the banks of the Richmond River (complete with dolphins and sensational sunsets).
Before this, Mariano worked in several restaurants in the region including the Tattersals Hotel in Lismore, where he transformed the
kitchen from a pub grill to an award-winning restaurant, with a Best Food and Beverage award and an AHA award for food.
But his work there was done and he was ready for the next challenge. The job at The Point came at the perfect time. ‘This job is a dream for me! It was what I was hoping for and aiming for,’ he says.
‘The kitchen is a playground for me. My inner child likes to come and play here, inventing new and interesting dishes, and having lots
‘It gives me the opportunity to create something special and interesting, that caters for traditional tastes, plus for those who want to try something very different from what they can cook for themselves at home.’
Mariano’s biggest challenge is to keep stretching himself and his diners, by creating new and interesting dishes, while at the same
time not getting too ahead of himself, and making sure that the old favourites are still available.
‘Yes there will be a steak or a parmigiana, and a fish of the day. But there will also be Goats cheese, with zucchini flowers, beetroot
tapenade, caramelised onions and baby cress…or a confit pork belly with an apple witlof salad, and a date and orange puree.’
‘And there is a big Italian influence. I’m aiming for a house-made, special, elaborate menu. For example, we make our own pasta,
and our own icecream.’
Mariano will capitalise on the availability of seasonal produce, altering the menu every three to four months, maintaining flexibility and variety.
Out back in the kitchen, he leads a team of 12, including 6 chefs. ‘I enjoy leading. I run the kitchen like a small democracy an involve the team in the decision making. The kitchen is a creative environment—I don’t want robots. I tell them, the recipe is a guide. Trust your judgement and I will trust your judgement.’
‘Some chefs are dictators but that doesn’t breed positivity.’
‘The kitchen must be a place where the staff want to be. If my staff want to be there, then the diners will want to be there too. It’s really that simple,’ he says.
SOURCE: The Source NSW
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The Point Bar & Restaurant is in the Ramada but not part of the Ramada, although you wouldn't know this. As you walk into the foyer it's off to the left and there's nothing 'separate' about it.
We've dined there several times, for breakfast and dinner mainly, and the food is always good (better than good!). It's very 'open plan' and you can easily wander from the bar through to the restaurant. The thing we like about The Point is that, even though it's in a 4+ star hotel, there's a relaxed feel to it. This may be partly due to the fact that it opens straight out onto a large outdoor terraced area that is right next to the riverside walkway and grassed area. The decor is light in colour and there's plenty of fresh air and natural light, so you don't feel 'boxed in'.
We haven't tried every restaurant in Ballina but it's safe to say that The Point is up near the top of the tree when it comes to dining. Because it's not exclusive to the Ramada it does get busy and, even if you are staying at the hotel, it's still an idea to book – especially on the weekend.
We met a friend in the bar for a pre-dinner drink and when drinks looked like going past our 7pm booking time (even though we could take our drinks through to the table), there was no problem pushing it back a half hour.
When we did sit down, we went straight for the mains:
- Risotto with broccolini, chorizo, asparagus and parmesan ($24),
- Chicken parmigiana with tomato, feta, basil, macadamia nut pesto and chips ($19)
- Byron Bay pork loin with sweet potato mash and braised red cabbage ($27)
Wine – Mount Adam Cabernet Merlot, Barossa Valley ($35/bottle)
- My sweet tooth relented and the dessert I had was divine – Strawberry, macadamia and vanilla bean cheesecake ($9)
How was it? Let's just say all the plates left clean!
Full à la carte menu here
The bar has a good selection of wines, spirits, beers and cocktails and the night we stayed we had a couple of drinks at the bar and then wandered through to the restaurant.
Bar menu here
The one thing that we found slightly unusual was that the bar closed at 10pm on the Saturday night we were there. Admittedly there are plenty of other pubs close by but The Point bar has far nicer decor and it's much closer to the rooms upstairs than any of the pubs (once again, a reminder that the Point Bar & Restaurant is separate to the Ramada, even though it's on the premises).
The following morning I (Giulio) wandered down for breakfast (someone else was a little too 'snoozy'). It was quiet – breakfast isn't advertised on The Point's website and is more for hotel guests – and the staff were cheery, but not over-bearing. Always good for a Sunday morning.
The menu is quite simple but covers all bases. I ordered a fresh aple juice (squeezed there and then) and the Eggs Benedict with ham ($16). It arrived...it disappeared. A good indication there was nothing wrong with it.
Some other breakfast items on the menu:
- Toasted banana and macadamia bread ($8)
- Eggs your way with sourdough ($8.50)
- House macadamia muesli with skim, soy or rgular milk ($10)
- Seasonal fruit with country style yoghurt ($10)
- Scrambled eggs carbonara with bacon, basil, parmesan and sourdough ($14)
Some of the sides:
- Sauteed spinach ($3)
- Smoked salmon ($4)
- Hash browns ($3)
- Grilled mushrooms ($3)
Tea and coffee as you like, assorted juices.
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