Toby Hilton and brothers Anton and Stefan Forte of The Swillhouse Group have been responsible for some game-changing bars in Sydney, from Shady Pines Saloon to Baxter Inn and Frankie’s Pizza. More recently, they have had restaurants in their sights, with Restaurant Hubert, then Alberto’s Lounge, in 2018, gently shaking the foundations of Sydney dining in the best way possible.
While restaurant Hubert is a baroquely detailed tribute to post-war French dining, sprawling across an underground complex of bars, dining rooms and even a theatre, Alberto’s Lounge is an intimate homage to the simple pleasures of the osterie and trattorie of Italy.
Lodged down Alberta Street in Sydney’s city, on the fringe of Surry hills, Alberto’s has the kind of location Melbourne has long maintained ownership of. A tucked away, hard to find laneway kind of affair. And though Melbourne may lay claim to pioneering the popularity of obscured venues, the guys from Swillhouse Group have arguably perfected it.
Once the entrance is located, Alberto’s opens into an intimate room flanked in warm wood and antiqued plaster finishes. The walls are crammed with framed photos and posters, while a formidable cliff of spirits adorns the back wall of the bar, obscuring all but a torso-high vista of the ever-bustling kitchen. Unlike many of the Group’s venues, Alberto’s actually has windows, which take in a bespoke black and white mural on the opposite wall.
After launching Restaurant Hubert, Executive Chef Dan Pepperall turned his attention to Alberto’s, which was a return of sorts for the chef. Pepperall was famously the founding chef of 10 William St., where he took the spirit of Italian cuisine and channelled it in surprising directions, employing Asian ingredients to tilt classic combinations. At Alberto’s, now with Head Chef Daniel Johnston on the pans, there are less cultural twists and turns, with a more faithful rendering of pan-Italian cuisine, though the immersion in umami is no less present.
The site has some wineslinger pedigree, too, with it prior housing Berta, which helped unleash the mysteries of Italian natural wine on an unsuspecting public a decade ago. That public is now armed and ready, with natural-leaning wine – Italian or otherwise – well and truly welcomed into the fold. The list at Alberto’s, under the guidance of sommelier Marc Dempsey, reflects a new maturity that sees the best of the avant-garde nestling with bastions of tradition, though minimal intervention wines are certainly key. With over 150 listings and 25 by the glass, the selection is broad ranging, but the focus is squarely on Italy and Australia.
COVID-19 conditions: Aside from mandatory capacity restrictions and requisite cleaning and sanitising regimens, Alberto’s Lounge is operating as normally as possible, with regular hours and a full offering.