Liam Driscoll, Chef at Bartolo Wine Room

Since opening in 2018, Bartolo in Surry Hills – managed by Jared Merlino, who is also behind Kittyhawk, The Lobo and Big Poppa’s – has gone through a few changes. In 2019, the then restaurant dropped the word “Caffe” from its name and installed a bar. In 2020, after the lockdown, the Italian restaurant switched again, removing its coffee machine and transforming it into an evening wine bar.

Now it is undergoing another change: it has hired a new chef. Liam Driscoll was the founding chef at Big Poppa’s, which has been acclaimed for its late-night crowds, extensive wine list, and pappardelle with lamb ragu (a dish you can thank Driscoll for). Before going into Big Poppa’s kitchen, Driscoll worked on the pans at Pendolino in The Strand Arcade – so you know he has some seriously good Italian cooking pedigree. On his new menu you can expect dishes such as king prawns in preserved lemon-and-caper butter, ruffled mafaldine pasta with winter vegetables and goat curd, and a Piemonte-style beef tartare.

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

What is your new job title?
Chef. My role covers all aspects of running a commercial kitchen – from directing, leading and guiding the kitchen team, creating and delivering new menu ideas and concepts, to the more mundane but essential math and everything else in between.

Why did you decide to move to Bartolo?
I had ended up at Big Poppa’s as a chef at the end of 2021 and was in between jobs, a bit of freelance work, when Jared [Merlino] hit me with the offer to take over Bartolo. I have always enjoyed the atmosphere and style of food and dining there, I know the business and have an established positive relationship with the management. I was looking for a new challenge, so it was really a no-brainer.

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

Do you bring dishes or ideas that you are known for?
I wouldn’t say I’ll bring certain dishes-ideas, sure. I want to keep the products fresh and seasonal and the menu is constantly evolving. One thing you’ll see during the colder months is a rich ragu of slow-braised wagyu shank served with pappardelle, so I guess that’s something akin to Big Poppa’s famous lamb ragu.

Will we see any cool ideas or dishes that will please guests?
I really like to use a few non-traditional Italian ingredients in my dishes at the moment. Premium Japanese stuff 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 are used in my dishes to amplify and add flavor and umami rather than stand out and overpower. I’d say the dish this stands out the most is a tuna crudo that I’ve had. I’m currently getting an incredibly fresh, soft, and buttery yellowfin tuna and serving it raw, simply dressed with black rice vinegar and some great extra virgin olive oil from pressed mandarin, so I hope that’s exciting.

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