If you judged a book by its cover, you might never peg Hellbound as a serious wine bar. The retro-feel ‘wine bar’ sign that points prospective customers down a flight of stairs may be encouraging, but it speaks more of dive bar than it does Willi’s Wine Bar. There’s a giant caricature of a Rousseau…
Fratelli Paradiso’s founders, brothers Giovanni and Enrico Paradiso, and Marco Ambrosino, all hail from Melbourne (like Sydney’s other favourite adopted Italian-Australian son, Maurizio Terzini), but decided to make the move north to open their iconic Potts Point restaurant in 2001. Today, Fratelli Paradiso is unarguably one of Sydney’s modern institutions, as it eases towards completing its second decade untarnished by time.
Fratelli did to Sydney what Caffé e Cucina did to Melbourne a decade earlier. Both pushed Italian food, and, perhaps most importantly, the Italian dining experience into a new realm. The menu was not the Australian–Italian food that was endemic at the time, but rather a reflection of Italian classics in a modern context. Both weighed heavily on theatre, on genuine, detailed but unstuffy service – personal, warm and energetic. Back then, this approach arguably stood out even more in Sydney than it did in Melbourne. Either way, a legend was born.
Back when the trio launched their restaurant, Potts Point didn’t snap into gentrified focus once the last neon of Kings Cross was behind you. Indeed, the leafy and serene quality that pervades it now has replaced a somewhat grittier atmosphere. Much has changed, and Fratelli Paradiso have been a key player in that. And while the tight menu of rotating Italian classics, subtly refined and reworked, has remained very much the same, the café interior has been graced with a sensitive upgrade. The impact is still very much classic Fratelli Paradiso, but there’s a sophisticated warmth to it now, with fluted wooden panelling, leather-upholstered booths and tactile black fabric wall coverings.
The wine offer encompasses a little over 100 lines, but it seems to cover a lot more territory than what 100 entries should. The list is classified with pithy descriptors – light white, orange, full red etc. – which sit as umbrellas over an eclectic list that leans heavily towards Italy, but skips into France when it needs to, and touches on the local – think small, artisanal, un-messed with. It is a particularly compelling Italian selection, avoiding the big-name pitfalls, while not diverting heavily into the polarising. In short, there’s an authentic, passionate vibe to the offer, much like Fratelli Paradiso itself.