There is an inarguable cool to Fratelli Paradiso. But it’s not an exclusive club.
The pleasure lies in its democratic approach to diners – all are welcome, no order is too small or too excessive. The crowd is a reflection of that. Dishevelled luxury that might manifest itself as a moth-eaten cashmere jumper thrown over good, rumpled linen, well-worn Birkenstocks on well-pedicured feet, a Mulberry bowler popped on as an afterthought over unbrushed hair. Or it might be polished wingtips, a fresh fade and a hot shave. You never know, and that’s its charm.
Money certainly isn’t a condition of entry, unless you intend to settle in for a day-long festa of menu hits (start with the polenta-dusted calamari, take a solid tilt at the natural-leaning, mostly Italian drinks list, hit the lasagna, maybe a few rounds of raw tuna with black olives and blood orange, throw the phonebook at the bistecca Fiorentina, have a spoonful of tiramisu, rinse and repeat on the drinks list till you wake up screaming.)
The orchestrators behind the beautiful, well-conducted chaos are brothers Giovanni and Enrico Paradiso. The pair of dyed-in-the-wool career restaurateurs are often found standing on the side of the street, waiter’s flat thrown over the shoulder, greeting ex-prime ministers, retired Olympians out to pasture, artists and academics with equal zest. It’s a strange day not to see them in their Potts Point restaurant. The pair are ever-present, pouring wine, wielding crostini, extracting espresso, running plates, kissing, hugging and generally keeping the wheels greased at this well-oiled machine.
The broad spectrum of people that frequent Frat Paz does present its occasional issues but Giovanni says the challenging moments are some of the best. “I think they add to the character of the restaurant.The daily fabric. Challenges give personality, a sense of theatre. A sense of time and space.”
The Paradisos (Paradisi?) took it into their heads 22 years ago to move from Melbourne to Sydney with no money, and no idea of the neighbourhood they were opening into. “We knew nothing,” says Giovanni. “We didn’t know what area was what. Surry Hills, Double Bay, North Shore… we were going into something with zero knowledge and blind belief. I don’t think we expected it to last.”
At the time, the ‘Paris end’ of Potts Point still had a shadow cast over it by notorious crime figure Abe “Mr Sin” Saffron. It was far easier to cop a fit than order a Negroni, and the Fratelli Paradiso site was a dive bar called Bennie’s.
“This end of the cross was really shitty,” says Giovanni. “Close to the naval dockyards, it was a pretty blunt, heavy scene. When we first opened, you still got those characters through. Abe Saffron came in for years. He always sat at table four. There were always the most flamboyant people from theatre, film and fashion. Like, really over the top. [Artist-musician] Troy Davies came here till the day he died.
It took the Paradisos a year to open the doors to their Italian restaurant. Their timing, the morning of September 12, 2001, was unfortunate. But the offering was strong. A dining room of classic dark tones, a simple blackboard menu filled with much-loved Italian dishes, plenty of outdoor seating and all-day service. At first, Sydneysiders didn’t know how to take it. They were shocked they could come in at four o’clock in the afternoon and order a plate of pasta. Or a glass of wine mid-morning. They soon got used to it. Over the weekends, staff were flipping tables three or four times over the course of breakfast.
Service at Fratelli Paradiso has always been mesmerising. Swarthy Italians in dinner jackets serving you early morning baked ricotta and fresh fruit. Splashing grappa into the dregs of your afternoon ristretto. Reciting a dinner menu entirely in Italian for each new table as they’re seated in a chorus of ‘calamari, insalata, lasagnette, milanese.’ Can’t find the Financial Times? They’d run across the road and bring you a fresh one delivered on a tray. The tablecloths were starched crisp, the glassware sparkled so hard it tinkled. Everything moved at speed.
To this day, no detail is lost. The right glass for that natural Sardinian beer, poured at the table. Knowing exactly what a diner means when they say they want a glass of ‘cutlet wine’ and then bringing that very thing, to match the bone-in pork cotoletta, breaded and fried till golden, wearing a thin layer of pancetta, melted parmesan and doused in a little hot broth, finished with a few leaves of radicchio (for health). Or knowing when a diner orders a mid-course of rigatoni dressed with a verdant stinging nettle sauce and spanner crab meat, that they intend to split it, and without even asking, do it for you.
This is an excerpt from issue 2 of Swill. Grab a copy of Swill today to read the whole thing!