Alongside her chef husband Felix Rutz, Leigh Cholakos runs the much-loved local restaurant Bei Amici.
Her enthusiasm for Darling Point, its history and its people, is infectious. We recently sat down for a chat.
Thanks for inviting me into your beautiful restaurant, Leigh. I’ve enjoyed many meals here! You run Bei Amici with your husband. Why did you decide to open the business?
My husband is a classically trained Swiss chef, but we met in Australia and decided to live here. And we found this place. It inspired in me everything I love about Italy.
My best friend lived on Lake Como. I’d visit her and we’d be walking down the street and she’d just push open a door – and there would be this amazing restaurant with no name, nothing. You only found it because you knew somebody, who knew somebody who told you about the restaurant. And I loved that.
And I love the fact that we’re hidden, we stand alone, you have to know about us. I think we’re Sydney’s best-kept secret. If someone says, “I want to take you to my favourite restaurant” they can go down the back streets of Darling Point and there’s this gorgeous restaurant with beautiful open windows looking onto the convict wall opposite, and it just inspired all that sexiness for me!
Bei Amici means “beautiful friends”. Why did you decide on that name?
Dining has been around for – well, they found restaurants in Pompeii. And a restaurant is so different from being at home. When you cook at home and you have friends around, one person is constantly getting up to the stove. But when you dine in a restaurant, it’s about friendship because everyone’s equal – you don’t have one person being the cook or getting up to do everything. So it’s a really equal experience that everyone can enjoy. It’s something that’s united by friendship; people come together to eat and enjoy each other’s company. And that concept is really important now, because many people are so lonely.
Tell me about the social club you’ve started at Bei Amici?
The first Thursday of every month, between 5.30 and 6.30 pm, we hold the Bei Amici Social Club. When people come to the restaurant we give them a flyer with an invitation to the club. We didn’t hold it for the past year, but we’ve started again now. We offer free drinks and canapes for an hour, and people can just come and see friends and meet new people.
So many people are so lonely at the moment, so we’re really trying to encourage and foster friendships through food. There are a lot of people who live in one-bedroom apartments who might only go out if someone invites them, so we wanted people to start connecting, with no intentions except forming a friendship or an acquaintance, someone you can say hello to in the park. And people do form really good friendships, they talk about the area and Darling Point’s beautiful historic homes – I love this area!
What’s the best thing about running the restaurant?
We have the best customers, we have the nicest people. They’re well travelled, well educated, they really like their food. They’re just incredibly interesting. I adore them. And that’s why we love Bei Amici!
What are some of your memorable moments from the restaurant?
Seeing people grow up. Because we’ve been here for 14 years now, we’ve had families who might have started coming when their kids were about 10. And I’ve seen their 18th birthday, their 21st, their engagement, then they get married and have a baby.
We’ve been very lucky and seen some remarkably charismatic people come in, too – Margaret Whitlam used to come here, and Elton John.
Just researching the market?
What’s one thing no one knows about the business?
The amazing team we have in the kitchen and on the floor. No one knows the intense effort our staff put in behind the scenes. To work with these people is so inspiring.
How would you describe the restaurant in just three words?
Friendship, food and fun.
Thanks, Leigh, I might pop into your social club for a drink and a nibble! You can visit Bei Amici at 2B Mona Road. They do dine-in, takeaway, home delivery, and even fondue sets and gift vouchers if you need the perfect present.
Photo credit: Bei Amici website