Where does one begin with Fratelli Paradiso Established in 2001 in what was then a distinctly un-gentrified and rather seedy Potts Point, this institution sees so many key ingredients come together to give it its continuing and seemingly never-ending moment in the sun. Fratelli Paradiso, the creation of the lyrically named Paradiso brothers Giovanni and Enrico and their business partner Marco Ambrosino, brought a distinctly “Melbourne” style of service and dining to the Sydney scene. From day one it was the differences to the typical local experience that made it both distinctive and a much-valued contribution to food culture in the city.
The three founders strongly believe that the success of a restaurant rides on the front-of-house experience, and they rail against the current shift in emphasis to the kitchen and the ubiquitous celebrity chef. All three had their start in the industry as waiters, and the theatre of service is perhaps the key ingredient in the success of this restaurant. It is certainly where their focus lies, followed closely by the food, and of course the wine.
Giovanni explains that an important part of dining at Fratelli Paradiso is the sense that from the moment you arrive, you are going to be looked after, that the waiters are going to help you navigate the menu and the wine list. Their task is to limit the amount of hard work and decision-making you have to do once you have settled in, and they satisfy this mission in style. “Theatre” is a good description of the style of service: blackboard menus written exclusively in Italian are explained to two-to-three tables at a time, drawing fellow diners into the performance.
The interior that gave form to the dining and service concept is intentionally not a showpiece, but a backdrop to this theatre. As Giovanni explains, a lot of the dining rooms in Sydney have views, and are all about light and looking outward. Fratelli Paradiso is something else entirely – an introverted stage where diners view and interact with wait staff and each other, and there is “nothing to look at outside.” Built around this ethos, the interior, designed by the late Mike Murphy, is very dark. “We used have complaints in the old days, but now the iPhone torches come out,” Giovanni says.
Given these concerns, the interior of Fratelli Paradiso is all about the work of the waiting staff, and the “flow” of that work. It is a utilitarian environment, a workplace that has to function first, and look good second. This posed challenges, given the U-shaped nature of the shopfront and the need to create a working space on one side, where the baking and pasta-making happens, that would still be comfortable for diners to occupy. The shift in emphasis between day and night dining is also important given the kitchen stays open all day, and Giovanni is clear that the lighting design remains an essential part of making the interior work.
Splashes of brass and marble, but not too much, combined with an “art wall,” give the interior its distinctive flavour. It is currently being renovated in a way that extends Murphy’s legacy, while adapting to the ongoing evolution of the restaurant and its front-of-house experience. “Evolution” is the key word here: Fratelli Paradiso has remained of-the-moment by constantly adjusting itself. The art wall is a case in point. Giovanni explains that they keep any given work for about two years – until it is iconic – and then they “trash it,” in his words, to make way for the next installation.
This resistance to attachment is not always to the approval of regulars, who might become enamoured by a single piece. But something about the way the restaurateur explains this gives me a hint at the essence of Fratelli Paradiso, and its interior in particular: evolve and change in order to remain constant, and in this way, remain relevant – to dining, to wine, and to the life of the city.