SIGNOR VERTELLI - AN ACT OF LOVE, LABOUR & WONDER

Armidale’s own Napoli-style pizzeria and wine bar is a tribute to circus performers past and present. Chef and co-owner Matt Westhorpe invites you to eat, drink and perform acts of wonder, always.



Back in 1866, a man by the name of Signor Vertelli traversed Armidale’s Dangars Gorge on a tightrope.

As if making the crossing once wasn’t nerve-wracking enough, he crossed it again… with a wheelbarrow… then a third time, while doing somersaults. Up to 200 people picnicked among the surrounding rocks and watched what was described as the act of “a thrilling daredevil, a terrifying feat of courage or absurd theater?!”


“As it turns out, the guy wasn’t Italian at all – he was some cockney geezer,” says Matt Westhorpe, head chef and co-owner of Armidale’s newest addition to the foodie scene, a pizzeria and wine bar named after Vertelli himself.

And Matt’s right. Vertelli was in fact born John Morcom. He came from a mining family in Cornwall UK, before going on to achieve fame as a stage magician not only in Australia, but also in Tokyo and San Francisco.


“The fact that it was his stage name works for us too – we’re not Italian after all, it’s a farce right?! We just wanted something that would connect Armidale with an Italian theme, and when we landed on the story of Signor Vertelli, Nick and I knew it was the one.”


Matt and business partner Nick Oxley go way back. They met when Matt worked for Nick at his first local business, Armidale’s renowned Goldfish Bowl Cafe. It was there they started the tradition of ‘pizza Fridays’ in an effort to streamline the prep work needed to sustain the busy bakery and cafe from Saturday through to Thursday.

“It made sense to shift to a whole different menu on Fridays – so we started making pizzas, a lot of pizzas, and it’s still a success to this day,” says Matt.


It’s true, there’s a hunger (pun entirely intended) for pizza in town. So when Nick approached Matt about opening a woodfired pizza place, he leapt at the chance to join forces again.



“We knew there was a demand for it and we’d been talking about it for years. It’s a good business model too – we didn’t want to overcomplicate things, the idea was to concentrate on one thing and do it really well, with a few complimentary side dishes,” he says.


That conversation took place in April 2019. Just four months later, building work began to get the space up to speed and install the necessary services, before swinging their doors open for launch in April 2020. Smack bang at the start of COVID.


“We didn’t have much choice, we’d put everything into preparing for that date so we just had to go with it,” says Matt. “Take-aways proved popular back then and, while it’s still early days, business is good.”


And if you’ve ever been lucky enough to try one of Matt and Nick’s classic Napoli-style pizzas, it’s easy to see why. Customers come from far and wide for an authentic taste of Italy in the heart of Armidale, a menu Matt created with a focus on organic, local and fresh ingredients.


“All our flour comes from Gunnedah’s Wholegrain Milling, and we combine an organic f lour with an ancient grains mix for a more earthy taste,” says Matt.


The restaurant’s interiors were also designed with the help of a local architect and builder, who together brought Matt and Nick’s vision for a clean, simple, but welcoming space to life.


“We wanted to work with what the building had to offer, which was essentially concrete, steel and leather,” says Matt.


“So the stainless steel kitchen was made to measure locally, as well as the cemintel bar which really anchors the whole place. Almost everything else was sourced secondhand, and that’s where the regional challenge of not only hunting down the right materials but getting them delivered comes in.

“We just wanted something that would connect Armidale with an Italian theme, and when we landed on the story of Signor Vertelli, Nick and I knew it was the one.”


It’s true, in regional Australia it’s not uncommon to pay more for logistics than the item itself – something that often led Matt and Nick to hop in the car for a quick two-day jaunt to Melbourne or Brisbane, and back.


“The leather bench that runs the length of the restaurant’s main wall came from Melbourne and the delivery cost significantly more than the bench itself. So whenever we had the chance to pick something up ourselves, like the fridges, sinks, smaller ovens and hardware, we’d do it,” says Matt.


“The main oven came from Brisbane though, it’s a Stefano Ferrara pizza oven designed in Naples. The thing weighs close to three tonnes so that was a big journey involving a courier truck and manitou – but they’re investments that were entirely worth going that extra mile.”


Matt’s right. Signor Vertelli’s oven is undoubtedly a thing of beauty, sitting boldly in the heart of the kitchen that looks out onto the restaurant’s guests, gathered along the bench seat. In fact the moment you walk through their doors, it’s not unlike stepping inside someone’s home, one in which both Matt and Nick love to play host.

“My favourite time of day is around 8:30pm, because that’s wine time,” says Matt.


“It’s when everyone in the kitchen can start to relax a bit, we’ve done the majority of orders and I can usually step out from behind the bar to have a chat with the customers too – aside from cooking really great pizza, that’s the part I like best.”



You can catch Matt and Nick putting on their very own, Signor Vertelli style act of wonder five days a week, from 5pm to 9pm Tuesday-Thursday, and from 5pm to 9.30pm Friday-Saturday. Order online at signorvertelli.mobi2go.com or check out the live event at 110 Marsh Street, Armidale.


{words: Steph Wanlessphotography: Mike Terry}