Jared Merlino’s Caffe Bartolo in Surry Hills finally reopened its doors last Thursday, having been closed since lockdown began in March and said the slight shift in focus to reopen as Bartolo Wine Room has already been a roaring success.
The shift sees the venue offer a larger and wider ranging wine list and a new cocktail menu which has more of a focus on seasonal flavours plus sustainable and local ingredients.
Speaking to Bars and Clubs last week just prior to the doors finally swinging back open, Jared said: “It’s exciting times, it’s good to be able to open another one and it’s a step in the right direction.
“We’ve been trying to since the end of September but it’s a really precarious time for chefs especially at the moment, so it’s been a bit of struggle for staffing. But we’ve found a great Head Chef in Sam Bennett from Glebe Point Diner and formerly One Ford Street in Balmain and he’s got a Hat out there.
“He’s also got a great take on Italian food, and that’s what we doing, Modern Italian with some different influences and leaning it much more to being a wine room this time, which is why we’re coming back as Bartolo Wine Room.”
It was a move that proved popular, as Jared told Bars and Clubs today: “We had an amazing open weekend with our opening night on Friday being full of locals excited to see us re-open. I think people are really enjoying the new Wine Room direction with 170+ wines and the amazing new food menu from new head chef, Sam Bennett. He has truly outdone himself with some really creative dishes.
“The weekend lunches were great too with DJs on both days from 1pm and with the sweltering heat, our slushie cocktails – nuclear pina colada and strawberry clover club – sold out before the afternoon.
“We are really looking forward to the rest of December and the easing of restrictions today to allow us even more seats for our customers. We are excited to see our industry start to thrive again.”
WE TRIPLED THE WINE LIST
Jared told Bars and Clubs that as the team was starting to look at reopening the venue they all looked at how it would work best, and decided to go much harder on the beverage side of the business.
“We’ve tripled the size of the wine list, so we’re at 170-plus wines now. There’s a brand new cocktail list in there as well, which has beautiful summer flavours and we’ve even put a new slushie machine in there for alcoholic slushies.
“That’s perfect for this weather and considering we can do take-away booze now, we can now do take-away pina coladas out of our coffee window, which is something I never thought we’d be able to do.”
The new menu has a more Italian sharing style to it, with lots of small plates and the venue will initially open Thursday to Sunday nights. Then over December, Friday, Saturday and Sunday lunches will also come back, giving the venue seven services over four days.
Jared said: “I always built the venue to be a daytime venue, so we’re happy we’re able to open up for those lunches and have some great food and wine along Crown Street. It’s really starting to buzz up there now, which is exciting.”
In terms of the cocktail list, Jared told Bars and Clubs the venue was no longer trying to be any one thing any more.
“We’re looking more at seasonal flavours, things that are in season, that are sustainable and where we can buy of local producers. It’s about not using things that are out of season or that we have to import from overseas. We’ve had to mix a few things up but we’re always trying to find things were we can use Australian produce in the cocktail.”
And it’s the same with the wine list, as Jared explained: “Traditionally we were committed to 100 per cent Italian or Italian grapes grown in Australia, but we’ve opened it right up and essentially just gone for anything that tastes good.
“We completely emptied the venue during COVID and pushed all the wines out through bottleshop sales at Big Poppa’s, so we had to build it from the ground up. So we met with something like 25 wine suppliers and went through their portfolios and tasted the things that sounded delicious.
“There’s still a largely Italian influence, but there is a lot of Australian in there, a lot of natural, a lot of orange wine and just a lot of delicious stuff really, which is really exciting for us. I’ve got Marco and Harry up there as the Managers and they’ve worked really hard on pulling this together, and they are pretty excited by it all and so am I.”
Bartolo opens its doors for dinner on Thursday and will be open Friday, Saturday and Sunday evening, and is now taking bookings for up to 30 people through the Bartolo Wine Room website.