Page 13 - Foodservice magazine may 2019
P. 13

Since the Swillhouse group opened party bar Shady Pines Saloon in 2010, they’ve delivered Sydney knockout after knockout: the Baxter Inn, Frankie’s Pizza, Restaurant Hubert, boom boom
boom. Since then, they’ve jumped categories with dexterity – from small bar to cocktail lounge, pizza parlour and fine diner – and have developed a reputation for flamboyance, atmosphere and wide market appeal along the way. So when word hit that they were opening an Italian restaurant, expectations were high.
The flames were fuelled by news that Dan Pepperell, who’d delivered a wildly inventive yet time-honoured French menu as executive chef at Hubert (with dishes like kimchi gratin and whole-bird chicken fricassée), was returning to his culinary true love: Italian. The Italophile had established a cult following for his take on la vera cucina as head chef at 10 William St, and at the group’s new venture, in the former site of Italian darling Berta, he would do it again.
Alberto’s Lounge, named for its predecessor and its setting on Alberta Street tucked between Surry Hills and Central, opened its doors in late 2018. It was everything and nothing the public had imagined, which has always been the group’s greatest skill.
Anton and Stefan Forte, brothers and two parts of the hospitality collective (along with general manager Toby Hilton) grew up in an Australian-Italian household. “We always intended to do Italian,” says Stefan. By all accounts, the guys have a number of ideas on the go at any one time, but here the space dictates the concept, not the other way around.
Take Hubert: in 2015, the group was toying with ideas for a nightclub, but when they found the grand, cavernous building in the CBD, they shifted gears. “It called for a big, special restaurant,” recalls Stefan. “We thought something that Sydney doesn’t have is old-world classic French.” So Hubert was born.
Alberto’s Lounge, by contrast, yearned for something intimate. Stefan said they’d frequented Berta for years and when they saw the space again as prospective owners, it likewise had a predetermined destiny as a small Italian restaurant-meets-wine-bar.
Once the idea was locked, production design – another Swillhouse strength – kicked in. “We start with a rough idea of what we want to achieve on a whole and play that out through art, design, music, drinks and food,” explains Stefan. Essentially, all the senses are targeted. (If they are ever looking for another vocation, Hollywood is calling.)
“We wanted Alberto’s to be fun, but also kind of off-tilt and kooky. Not fully Italian, but our take on it.” Stefan says they referenced Fellini films, old Italian comedies and Italo disco, and included a lot of personal pieces from their own homes in the fit-
out. Anton’s wife Allie Webb, another Swillhouse contributor, also created the menu design and painted a striking black-and-white laneway mural overlooking Alberto’s vast window. “We usually go full-on theme with our venues, but we wanted Alberto’s to feel more like a neighbourhood space, somewhere you could pop in for a coffee, a quick glass of wine or a full-blown meal,” says Stefan.

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