The heartbroken son and daughter of famed Sydney restaurateur Giovanni Toppi came together to farewell their beloved mother at an emotional service in the eastern suburbs on November 12.
But the forced reunion at the funeral of the woman known as the ‘godmother’ of Sydney’s Italian food scene failed to heal the long-running feud between the siblings Paola and Walter.
The larger-than-life founder of Machiavelli in Clarence St – a favourite haunt of media and political heavyweights – passed away after a battle with cancer, aged 85, on November 3.
Speaking to Daily Mail Australia following her death, Paola – who operates the popular Bar M in Rushcutters Bay and Italian eatery Toppi in the CBD – confirmed she and brother were no longer on speaking terms after ‘years’ of squabbles that were largely financially motivated.
Toppi describes the falling out with her brother, who was living with his mother Giovanna in her Double Bay apartment prior to her passing, as ‘sad’ and insisted she didn’t want to get involved in a ‘tit for tat’.
However the well-known restaurateur confirmed that bitter in-fighting tainted the final weeks of her mother’s life.
Paola Toppi with her late mother and Sydney dining legend Giovanna Toppi
Walter Toppi has reportedly not been on talking terms with his sister Paola for years after a falling out
Machiavelli is a Sydney institution – a popular go-to-haunt for media and political heavyweights
‘Walter made it hard for me to even visit my mother in her final weeks…up until a few days before her death I wasn’t even aware of how sick she really was,’ Paola told the Mail Online.
‘For years I have helped my brother.
‘But it didn’t matter what we did, it was never enough. Sadly it got to the point where I just had to withdraw myself and have nothing to do with him.’
Another major issue at the centre of the dispute was Giovanna’s well-known and robust gambling habit with the matriarch of Sydney food known to frequent The Star right up until falling ill.
‘But rather than discourage this, my brother encouraged it,’ said Paola, who clashed with Walter over how many hours their mother should gamble given her deteriorating health.
It’s understood Walter is currently residing in Giovanna’s last-known residence – the Meriton serviced apartments in Bondi Junction – with his partner.
Powerbrokers like Kerry and son Ryan Stokes, Bruce McWilliam and Kerry Packer were known to frequent the eatery so often they were ultimately assigned their own permanent tables
BAR M: Paola Toppi now operates the popular Bar M in Rushcutters Bay.
A one-time restaurateur in his own right who operated La Vecchia Cucina in Potts Point for during the 1990s, Walter recently circulated a series of allegations to media – via the Sydney legal firm Levitt Robinson – placing the blame for the feud on Paola and their other sister, Caterina.
At the source of the beef is the fact neither women invited their mother to the weddings of their respective eldest sons.
‘Both Paola and our sister, Caterina’s eldest sons got married and neither invited their nonna, Giovanna to their wedding,’ Walter claims in the statement.
He also claimed Paola failed to visit their dying mother during what he claimed was a 13-day stay at Sacred Heart Hospice in Darlinghurst.
‘Paola did not come to see my mother once as she lay dying for 13 days, at Sacred Heart Hospice, though she lived only a 2-minute drive away,’ he claims.
VINTAGE: Giovanna Toppi with a then-toddler age daughter Paola
However Paola claimed Giovanna spent just two days at the hospice and that Walter ‘stood at the door’ of her room and blocked access to visitors.
She also told Daily Mail Australia that Giovanna was not invited to her son’s wedding only after failing to show for the earlier engagement party.
‘My mother preferred to go to the casino and that’s her choice. But my son made the decision, for the sake of peace in my family, that he preferred she also not attend the wedding.’
Paola, in turn, claims she was ‘cut out’ of the funeral arrangements held for Giovanna which were held in Waverley on November 12.
Dozens of mourners attended the service with many remembering Giovanna as the ‘heart and soul’ of the Sydney dining scene for decades with her famed eatery Machiavelli on Clarence street an unofficial canteen for the rich and powerful.
Born in Naples, Toppi arrived in Australia in her early 20s and quickly made an impression on the Sydney dining scene, first at La Strada in King’s Cross and from 1988 at Ristorante Machiavelli, where she and her daughters ran the business.
CELEBS: Toppi with celeb regulars Lizzie Spender and Barry Humphries
Powerbrokers like Kerry and son Ryan Stokes, Bruce McWilliam and Kerry Packer were known to frequent the eatery so often they were ultimately assigned their own permanent tables.
Packer, meanwhile, was even given his own personalised lounge chair during a long period when he suffered a bad back.
At the time of her passing, Giovanna was embroiled in a legal battle over a $1.5million loan both she and daughter Paola had allegedly failed to repay to their Bar M landlords.
The landlord of the Bar M site is WFR Motors, where Roosters chairman Nick Politis is a director.
The case, which was heard in the NSW Supreme Court, is due to resume next month.
Paola said she is confident the matter will be resolved.
‘There is no dispute between myself and WFM. The money is owed and will be paid,’ she said.
‘My mother was the one that requested the loan from WFM and they were gracious enough to help with our dispute with our former business partners. This has been established by different witnesses that attested to this fact.’
Comment has been sought from Walter.