This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988
Azzalin Orlando Romano (1894-1972), restaurateur, was born on 13 September 1894 at Padua, Italy, son of Alessandro Azzalin and his wife Benvegnu'Anna, née Nessuna. Christened Romano Orlando, he spent his childhood at Verona where his father was a postal official. Migrating with his family to England in 1910, after a brief education Azzalin began work as a page in the Vienna Hotel, Bristol, and attended night school. In 1912-14 he wandered from job to job at hotels and restaurants in Nice, Monte Carlo, Paris, Berlin and Madrid, before returning to England in November 1914. Taking a job as a hotel waiter in London, he married a Belgian, Pauline Roelandt, on 4 September 1915. He rose through a pyramidal structure from receptionist to cook and from waiter to wine butler; he had learned to speak French, German, Spanish and English, in addition to his native Italian, and claimed to have served every king in Europe.
In his early twenties, while officiating as head waiter at London's Ritz Hotel, he adopted Romano as his surname, reflecting his regard for one of the city's most renowned restaurants. When managing the Hyde Park Hotel he met Percy Stewart Dawson who persuaded him to come to Australia in 1923 to run the plush Ambassadors restaurant in Pitt Street, Sydney; he arrived in September and was followed by his wife. Four years later Romano's Restaurant opened in York Street. Throughout the Depression his establishment prospered, largely because of its low cost-structure. In 1938 he moved premises to the basement of the new Prudential Insurance Building in Martin Place, next door to the Prince Edward Theatre in Castlereagh Street. His business flourished with the patronage of American officers and the unlicensed sale of liquor during World War II and in the immediate years that followed. In 1947 he also acquired and lavishly rebuilt the Commercial Hotel, renamed Romano's, at Wagga Wagga. Giving his name as Romano Orlando Azzalin, he reluctantly gave evidence in 1952 to the State royal commission on the liquor laws.
His restaurant employed a staff of 80, and featured an orchestra, concealed lighting, 138 wall-mirrors and a bust of Napoleon by Dr Charles MacCarthy; from his farm at Baulkham Hills, Romano supplied vegetables, poultry and pork for a menu that listed 370 dishes. With its sumptuous elegance, Romano's became a social rendezvous for the wealthy who wore evening dress; its international standards and cuisine attracted such visitors as Prince Philip, Vivien Leigh and Maurice Chevalier. Yet, although equated with bon ton, an evening at Romano's was not beyond the reach of less affluent people celebrating a special occasion. Sydney's only other fashionable night club was James Charles Bendrodt's Prince's Restaurant.
With hair slicked back, an aquiline nose and pencil-thin moustache, Mr Romano dressed in white tie and tails and seldom unbent in his proprietorial role. A member of the Royal Empire Society and Tattersall's and the Royal Automobile clubs, he relaxed with music and song at his Bellevue Hill home and enjoyed golf and motoring. After years of moderate success on the turf, late in 1945 he bought Bernborough which won fifteen successive races before 'Azzalin the Dazzlin' sold him to the American movie-mogul Louis B. Mayer. Having disposed of his restaurant in 1964, Romano saw it converted into a discotheque where go-go girls twisted the night away. Bedridden in his Point Piper flat and subject to heart attacks, he died on 6 November 1972 and was cremated with Catholic rites. His wife Alice Emma Wyke Brown, a daughter and a son survived him.
John Ritchie, 'Romano, Azzalin Orlando (1894–1972)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/romano-azzalin-orlando-8263/text14473, published in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 12 March 2014.
This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988