Jared Merlino is responsible for some of Sydney’s best bars, Kittyhawk and Lobo Plantation, and his restaurant and cocktail bar Big Poppa’s was an unexpected hit, thanks to its banging selection of cheese and pastas.
At Caffe Bartolo – which was home to Bills for 23 years prior – Merlino is honouring his family: his great-grandfather Bartolo, who emigrated from the small Sicilian town of Lipari in 1910; his grandmother Mary, whose cooking inspired the traditional Italian fare on offer; and his great aunt Rita, an Italian greyhound breeder.
High metal-pressed ceilings and large street-facing windows make the all-day Italian eatery feel spacious. There are some cute homely touches from interior designer and friend Peter Harley, such as photographs of Bartolo and Mary, vintage Italian posters and even pictures of greyhounds. Aussie native flowers bring colour to marble-topped tables and the wicker chairs, low-level bar and open kitchen make it feel warm and inviting.
During breakfast and lunch, Bartolo is a flurry of takeaway coffees, people chatting on outside tables eating coffee granita and brioche, and bustle of Crown Street filtering through the windows. At night the space shuts itself off from the world, transforming into a cosy bistro and cocktail bar.
Caffe Bartolo has a very solid cocktail and wine program. But, unlike Merlino’s other venues, Bartolo’s focus is on food, with Teofilo Nobrega, of Fratelli Paradiso fame, leading the kitchen. There’s homemade pasta, flat-iron steak with salsa verde and pan-roasted snapper with clams and mussels. The beef, veal and pork meatballs in tomato sugo is Merlino’s grandmother’s recipe.