Nikki To

Maurice Terzini first came across the sgroppino in Venice, Italy — the birthplace of the not-cocktail, not-quite-dessert. The restaurateur put the palate cleanser on the menu at his first restaurant Caffe e Cucina in Melbourne’s South Yarra before it made the jump to Icebergs Dining Room and Bar where it has become synonymous with the Bondi dining experience.

Most restaurants and bars have signature dishes and drinks, but few manage to stand the test of time — the sgroppino at Icebergs is one of them.

Bar Director Matty Opai will soon hit his ninth year at Icebergs and has made his fair share of sgroppinos. He speaks to Hospitality about its intrinsic links to the restaurant, how the bar team construct sgroppinos tableside, and why orders spread like wildfire once the trolley hits the floor.

The sgroppino first appeared on the tables of Venetian aristocrats back in the 16th century. Made of lemon sorbet and a slosh of alcohol, the drink was served to the elite in between courses to clear the palate and “untie a little knot”, which is where the name sgroppino comes from.

The modern iteration of the sgroppino stays true to the original, which is in line with the broader Icebergs experience — tradition is indispensable. And while the drink has been around for hundreds of years, it’s not one you see often. Matty Opai had never heard of the sgroppino until he started working at Icebergs.

“It’s not a normal cocktail,” he says. “Maurice came across it in the ’80s when he was in Venice. He put it on the menu at Caffe e Cucina and they would make hundreds using a blender.”

Icebergs has served the drink from the beginning, with a hands-on approach taking the place of machinery. “Maurice is very traditional in what he does,” says the bar director. “When Icebergs adopted it 20 years ago, they created some theatre around it with the tableside element, which is how it’s made today.”

There are just three ingredients that go into a sgroppino — lemon sorbet, Prosecco, and vodka. And while bartenders can riff: “I’ve added tequila and lime juice before to make it tarter”, says Opai, the drink just wouldn’t be the same.

“As soon as you start using different-flavoured sorbets and ingredients, it stops being what it was designed for. It would still be an amazing drink, but it’s a cocktail with sorbet — not a sgroppino. It’s a palate cleanser, which is why the flavours are quite neutral.”

The sorbet component is left to the experts (Icebergs’ kitchen team), which is joined by Belvedere vodka and house Prosecco. All guests need to do is order one and wait for the trolley to arrive. “90 per cent of the time, people have it post-mains and prior to dessert, but we do have a few locals who order one as soon as they sit down,” says Opai. “I suppose you could have it as a pre-palate cleanser and order another one later.”

The construction of the sgroppino is theatrical and experiential. Carafes of Prosecco and vodka are placed on a tablecloth-clad trolley alongside a bowl, mixing forks, a serving spoon, the sorbet, and Nick & Nora glasses.

“The thing with the tableside aspect is that once you wheel it over, the next group says, ‘What’s that? I want one’,” says Opai. “It catches on like wildfire and the entire section wants it. The busier the restaurant is, the more we make.”

It takes around five minutes for a member of the Icebergs team to make sgroppino portions, “which does get difficult on the arms”, says Opai. The process begins with working the ice crystals out of the sorbet, with two scoops allocated to each drink. “We crush the sorbet, then add 30–40ml of Prosecco which froths the mixture up and creates a very light, airy texture with the sorbet. Then we add 30ml of Belvedere — which helps the thawing process a bit because of the alcohol — and it turns into a velvety-smooth drink.”

Breaking down the sorbet is one of the main pressure points of making a sgroppino, which should emulate a smoothie.

“There’s a lot involved when you start whipping out all the lumps to get a super-smooth texture,” says Opai. “We whip it until the mixture starts to drop from the fork but still leaves [some behind] — that’s when it’s ready to go. The hardest part for a lot of people is making something in front of guests. The whole time you’re thinking, ‘Don’t spill, don’t spill’, so that’s probably the most challenging component, but it’s a super simple thing to do.”

A sgroppino is a core part of the Icebergs dining experience, and while it’s been on the menu for two decades and counting, the restaurant still goes through 5 litres of sorbet on Saturdays. “It gets a lot of air time on Instagram and TikTok, so we’ve become famous for it,” says Opai. “Social media definitely helps drive it and it has become a lot more popular.”

And it’s not just the guests who get to enjoy the zing of the palate cleanser. “We always try to taste and make sure we’re making it right … for no other reason than quality control,” laughs Opai. The proof is in the longevity of the sgroppino at Icebergs — it’s a drink that requires a hand for pouring, an arm for churning, and an eye for detail.