Liam Driscoll, Head Chef at Bartolo Wine Room

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

Now he is undergoing another change: he has appointed a new chef. Liam Driscoll was the founding executive chef of Big Poppa’s, which won acclaim for its late-night buzz, extensive wine list, and pappardelle lamb stew (a dish you can thank Driscoll for). Before running the kitchen at Big Poppa’s, Driscoll worked the pans at Pendolino in The Strand Arcade – so you know he has a pretty good Italian cooking pedigree. On its new menu, expect dishes such as prawns with candied lemon butter and capers, ruffled mafaldine pasta with winter vegetables and goat curd, and Piedmontese beef tartare.

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

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

Why did you decide to move to Bartolo?
I had finished at Big Poppa as Executive Chef at the end of 2021 and was between jobs, doing a bit of freelance work, when Jared [Merlino] offered me to come and take over the direction of Bartolo. I have always liked the ambiance and style of cooking and dining there, know the business well 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 to grow the band and hopefully I’ll be able to evolve my role into a band role in the future.

Will you bring any dishes or ideas you are known for?
I wouldn’t say I would bring any particular dishes – ideas, certainly. I want to keep the products fresh and in season, and the menu constantly changing. One thing you’ll see in the cooler months is a rich, slow-braised Wagyu shank stew served with pappardelle, so I guess it’s something similar to Big Poppa’s famous lamb stew.

Will we see cool ideas or dishes that might delight diners?
I’m really enjoying using a few non-traditional Italian ingredients in my dishes right now. Premium Japanese products 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 because those ingredients aren’t really important – they’re used in my dishes to enhance and add flavor and umami rather than stand out and dominate. I would say the dish where it stands out the most is a tuna crudo that I have. I’m getting incredibly fresh, soft, buttery yellowfin tuna right now and serving it raw, simply dressed with black rice vinegar and amazing squeezed tangerine extra virgin olive oil, so hopefully that will delight.

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