By now, a huge portion of Sydneysiders have sat at the bar at Restaurant Hubert — usually after waiting in line. So the fact that the team behind the CBD restaurant, the Swillhouse Group, has opened another venue is welcome news. It has taken over the Surry Hills space once home to Berta and turned it into an entirely new venue: Alberto Lounge. And while its warm Italian trattoria vibes are something of a contrast to the dapper French style of Hubert, its clear the Swillhouse team has stuck with the same formula that has spelled success for all of its venues.
Anton Forte — who's at the helm of this buzzy enoteca alongside brother and business partner Stefan Forte, wife Allie Webb and group general manager and fellow Swillhouse member Toby Hilton — sums it up best. "It's friendly service, high-quality product, a fun room, good music, a good vibe," he explains. "I think those core values run through any project we do. Our complete and unadulterated focus is on building the best venue we can."
Dive inside Alberto Lounge and you'll find personal space is at a cheerful minimum, the room cosy, classical and heavy on the timber. A laidback joint that works just as well for that two-drink fly-by, as for a long, lazy feast over many bottles of wine.
It's all the best parts of a classic trattoria, served up with that Swillhouse touch. Alberto references the team's favourite haunts of recent travels across Italy, with Forte describing it as their idealised 70s Italian restaurant. "It's kind of an extension of our living spaces," he muses. "It's really an expression of who we all are now — it's warm, cosy and super casual."
For Forte, Alberto's take on Italian is a little like what Hubert's is on French: traditional in presentation, but with modern technique and ingredients. In the kitchen, it's Hubert Head Chef Dan Pepperell, who's taking the reins on this old-school, new-school mash-up. The menu features plates like creamy burrata, slick peppers in 'crazy water' (an Italian tomato, basil and oil sauce), and a cotoletta, crumbed and crispy.
A handful of pasta options are on the menu, too, and might include a hollow-centred bucatini cooked through Amatriciana sauce, depending on when you visit. Meanwhile, the $95 bistecca steak is primed for those settling in for the long haul.
The matching drinks offering shows the team's staying true to form, with an impressive back bar creating some top-notch cocktails. The list runs to classic-leaning sips, crafted with care, while the wine selection is a global lineup with a firm focus on Italy. It's got big love for Italian varietals and the likes of old-world Barolo, but also a penchant for newer, natural drops, with iterations from across Jura, the Loire, Australia and Spain.
On the whole, Alberto isn't too formal or too stiff. You might have trouble getting in, though — the venue only accepts a small number of bookings each night, so get there early if you're a walk-in.
Images: Kitti Gould.