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Caffe Bartolo Is Surry Hills' New All-Day Italian Diner from the Co-Owner of Lobo Plantation

With the ex-head chef of Fratelli Paradiso in the kitchen and gun bartender Grazia Di Franco behind the bar you could easily spend all day here.
By Samantha Teague
November 27, 2018
By Samantha Teague
November 27, 2018

In Surry Hills' new Italian quarter, home to Maurice Terzini's Dolphin Hotel, Flour Eggs Water by A Tavola and the family-owned Crown Street Grocer, is Caffe Bartolo. The just-opened all-day eatery — the first solo venture from co-owner of Lobo Plantation, Kittyhawk and Big Poppa's Jared Merlino — isn't itself family owned, but it certainly feels like it.

Menus and wine glasses are engraved with the signature of Bartolo Marino, Merlino's great-grandfather, who migrated to Australia from Lipari; greyhounds, which guard the front door (both statues and sometimes real-life) and whose photos grace the walls, are a nod to Bartolo's daughter Rita, a greyhound breeder; and on the menu's endpaper is a eulogy to Merlino's grandmother, Mary.

Mary's presence is felt throughout the menu, too; the bloody mary mix and the breakfast meatballs ($20), served atop a panini with sugo and smoky scamorza, are both made using her recipe. And if you're thinking that meatballs don't sound like a typical Sydney brunch meal, you're right. That was intentional. With Sydney breakfast institution Bills located just a few doors down, Merlino wanted to serve up something that Crown Street didn't already offer.

For that, he called in chef Teofilo Nobrega, who's spent the past 13 years working at Potts Point's Fratelli Paradiso. When creating the food menu, Nobrego's aim was to create a lineup of dishes that you could happily spend 17 hours — how long the cafe's open for each day — eating. And you can.

You could start with the Sicilian-style coffee granita ($12), piled high with cream and served with house-made brioche, then progress to the Bartolo ($20), an omelette stuffed with fontina, broccolini and bacon, and a bloody mary ($20) with Aussie-made Maidenii vermouth.

The coffee granita, topped with cream and served with brioche.

Then, come lunch, it's suggested, by both Nobrega and Merlino, that you order Le Polpo ($21). Sous-vide for four hours, the octopus is then grilled and served with 'nduja powder and arrabiata sauce. Alternatively, you could order the saffron gnocchi ($25), made fresh daily like all the cafe's pasta, with zucchini flowers, bisque and wakame powder. Yep, dried seaweed powder. It may not be standard in Italian cooking, but Caffe Bartolo isn't quite serving up standard Italian. Its menu is scattered with Japanese ingredients and Australian produce, which is particularly prominent in the cocktail list.

Designed by creative director Grazia Di Franco, who's worked with Merlino before at Lobo Plantation and Kittyhawk, the cocktails attempt to convey what summer tastes like. Quite literally. Filled with stunning illustrations by Simon O'Carrigan, the list features drinks such as the Sunscreen ($20), made with cocoa butter, mango and rum; a short and slightly bitter Summer Love ($20); and Breakfast on a Verandah ($20), which combines rockmelon, native mint tea, coffee and German cachaça (a spirit made from fermented sugarcane juice). There's also a dedicated spritz menu featuring lemon myrtle, Cynar, absinthe and sherry. The drinks are what Di Franco imagines Bartolo would see and taste if he were still here, sitting out the front of the cafe in summer.

Which you could try to imagine for yourself, too. The outdoor seating is what drew Merlino to the space. Formerly home to Bills (before it moved metres down the road) it has been transformed by friend and designer Peter Harley, from Archery Rd Design. It has much more of a personality now, with photos of Bartolo on the walls, dark wood venetian blinds and floral wallpaper (not dissimilar to that at Lobo) covering the bathroom walls.

You can sit on the comfy white banquettes that line the front window, grab a wicker-backed chair at one of the marble-topped tables inside, or snag one of the coveted suede seats at the turquoise marble bar. Or, if you're just passing by, stop at the takeaway window and grab a Gabriel coffee and a pastry from Concord's Pari Pasticceria to go.

Find Caffe Bartolo at 359 Crown Street, Surry Hills. It's open from 7am till midnight daily. 

Images: Kitti Smallbone.

Published on November 27, 2018 by Samantha Teague
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