Since it opened in 2018, Bartolo in Surry Hills – operated by Jared Merlino, who’s also behind Kittyhawk, The Lobo and Big Poppa’s – has undergone a few changes. In 2019, the then-all day diner dropped the word “Caffe” from its name and installed a bar. In 2020, post-lockdown, the Italian diner switched gears again, removed its coffee machine and transformed into an evening-only wine bar.

Now, it’s undergoing another change: it has appointed a new head chef. Liam Driscoll was the founding executive chef at Big Poppa’s, which has drawn acclaim for its late-night buzz, extensive wine list and lamb ragu pappardelle (a dish you can thank Driscoll for). Before heading up the kitchen at Big Poppa’s, Driscoll worked the pans at Pendolino in The Strand Arcade – so you know he’s got some seriously good Italian-cooking pedigree. On his new menu, expect dishes such as king prawns in preserved-lemon-and-caper butter, ruffled mafaldine pasta with winter greens and goat’s curd, and a Piedmont-style beef tartare.

Here’s what Driscoll has in store for Bartolo (and it involves another ragu pappardelle).

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What’s your new job title?
Head chef. My role involves all aspects of running a commercial kitchen – from directing, leading and mentoring the kitchen team, creating and delivering new menu ideas and concepts, to the more mundane but vital number crunching, and everything else in between.

Why did you decide to make the move to Bartolo?
I had finished up at Big Poppa’s as executive chef at the end of 2021 and was between jobs, doing a bit of freelance work, when Jared [Merlino] hit me up with the offer to come and take over running Bartolo. I’d always loved the vibe and style of food and dining there, I am familiar with the company and have an established positive relationship with management. I was looking for a new challenge, so it was a no-brainer, really.

Do you have any fun plans or ideas for your new role?
I guess I’m here to help drive the business forward and have fun while I’m doing it. The long-term plan is for the group to expand, and hopefully I will be in a position for my role to evolve into a group role in the future.

Will you bring along any dishes or ideas you’re known for?
I wouldn’t say I’ll be bringing any particular dishes over – ideas, definitely. I want to keep the produce fresh and seasonal, and the menu constantly evolving. One thing you will see for the cooler months is a rich ragu of slow-braised Wagyu shin served with pappardelle, so I guess that’s something similar to Big Poppa’s famous lamb ragu.

Will we see any cool ideas or dishes that might thrill diners?
I’m really into using a few non-traditional Italian ingredients in my dishes at the moment. Premium Japanese things like junmai su (Japanese rice vinegar) and shiro shoyu (white soy), and Chinese ingredients like Chinkiang vinegar and Shaoxing wine.

I wouldn’t call it fusion, as these ingredients aren’t really prominent – they’re used in my dishes to enhance and add flavour and umami rather than stand out and overpower. I’d say the dish where this stands out the most is a tuna crudo I’ve got on. I’m getting some incredibly fresh, soft and buttery yellowfin tuna at the moment and am serving it raw, simply dressed with black rice vinegar and some amazing pressed-mandarin extra-virgin olive oil, so I hope that thrills.

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