Sunday, October 28, 2012

Fratelli Paradiso Potts Point

This article is from "An Affair with Italy" and is about a great Italian restaurant and its owners in Potts Point Sydney


''I turn to Enrico... "Enrico what do you bring to the table?". Enrico: "Nothing much really." The boys jump in protesting. Giovanni: "that's not true. If the restaurant was to have a face it would be Enrico... Enrico has a great understanding of people - he can talk to an envelope!''

What is it about Fratelli Paradiso that makes this Sydney restaurant so alluring? For years I have walked down the main street of Potts Point and witnessed new restaurants opening with hopeful smiles, only to find themselves shutting their doors a year or two later. Eateries and businesses come and go. But Fratelli Paradiso endures. It is an establishment. It’s moody lighting and the slightly aloof Italian waiters draw a very loyal, sophisticated Eastern suburbs crowd. More often than not I will see a well known actress walk in and greet the Fratelli boys as if they were family. There are politicians, the arts crowd, the rich, the beautiful and then of course normal people, like me.
So sitting down with the Fratelli boys – brothers, Enrico and Giovanni Paradiso, and their best mate Marco Ambrosino – the first thing I ask them is “what’s the secret?”.

Giovanni (affectionately known as Johnny): “We understand what it means to be a true restauranteur. We are front of house led, and it is all about our customers. As soon as someone walks through that front door they are greeted, they are served, they are waited on – they are completely spoilt.”
Enrico: “We are just waiters, successful waiters. That’s the mistake people make. All of a sudden they think they are a restauranteur which means they don’t have to be a waiter anymore, but really good restauranteurs have waiter emblazoned across their forehead 24 hours a day. We were lucky enough to be taught by some of the best restauranteurs in the world.”
I discover that the boys never intended on becoming “the place”. They had very modest beginnings in the backstreets of Carlton and Brunswick in Melbourne. They didn’t have much growing up. Their cousins always had better houses, better cars, better everything. Johnny remembers having a dilapidated old Fiat while their cousins drove around in a brand new Chrysler. They admit that their father wasn’t much of a business man, but what he did instill in them was an ability to live for the moment. “It gave us a real sense of spirit and the ability to enjoy things for what they are,” says Johnny.
Enrico and Johnny started out with a restaurant in Melbourne. At age 23 Marco came to work for the brothers but after a year and a half they went their separate ways. The Melbourne restaurant was sold and the brothers relocated to Sydney to eventually open Fratelli Paradiso.
“When we came to Potts Point it hadn’t been gentrified. We were the only thing open at night. We had no clue about the hot areas. We weren’t bound by any parameters of what people were expecting. We lost our virginity (in a sense) and it was liberating,” says Johnny.
When the boys opened their restaurant doors in Sydney the dining scene was archaic – nobody knew about all day dining. It used to be that restaurants closed at 3.30pm and then opened again at 6pm. In the old days a true bistro would be open all day for people to eat.
Enrico: “We are set up so that it doesn’t have to be an event every time you go out. A restaurant has to nourish you and has to make you happy. That is the whole ethos of what we do.”
Six months after opening Marco came on board but this time as partner. I ask, “why Marco?”
Johnny: “Marco brings acumen to the business. If Marco wasn’t here, this place would have probably gone broke. He makes this place work. Someone could walk up to me and say ‘how much does the chef get paid?’ and I’ll say ‘I have no idea, talk to Marco.’ I have no business sense whatsoever. “
Marco: “I might be the business head but Johnny’s the creative force. He has an incredible passion for wine, and regardless of other people’s opinions, he can venture into unknown territories. Johnny has been one of the pioneers of natural wines in Sydney. He started that five years ago, before it was fashionable. He has an incredible knowledge for what kind of wine to drink at what time; for service; creation of the menu – we use the chefs purely as a vehicle for our ideas. A lot of the menu ideas comes from Johnny. Johnny is more poetic than the rest of us.”
Finally I turn to Enrico (who was half an hour late for our meeting): “Enrico what do you bring to the table?”
Enrico: “Nothing much really.”
The boys jump in protesting.
Johnny: “That’s not true. If the restaurant was to have a face it would be Enrico. People come to see Enrico.
Enrico: “That’s because I really don’t do much so I am always walking around saying ‘hi’ to everyone.”
Johnny: “Enrico has a great understanding of people – he can talk to an envelope!”
The three boys are close, Johnny and Enrico brothers and Marco their closest friend.
Marco: “We spend more time together than with our partners and kids. On occasions we get on each others nerves, but generally there is a healthy respect and we are best of mates.”
Enrico: “We are restaurant men, I admit that sometimes our partners do feel a little neglected. You are giving so much to the restaurant and to everyone that comes in so that when you go home sometimes there’s not too much more to give. That’s the contract they made when they got involved with restaurant guys. For better or for worse!”
The three of them agree that it is a super tough industry to be in – you work long hours, you drink too much, you push your body to the limits constantly. You have to have an incredible passion for food and wine to survive.
“And what about the egos?” I ask.
Marco: “Absolutely we have egos. No question about it, we fight. We fight about everything and anything. We never physically put hands on each other but we do have heated discussions. We are good at walking away and cooling off and then in about a week or two sorting it out. Usually one of us will say, ‘right I’m going to Europe for a week or two!’ When we come back together we realise that it is not important in the whole scheme of life. In the end we always look at each other and say ‘we’ve got it good’.