Jared Merlino’s Caffe Bartolo in Surry Hills is reopening its doors tomorrow, after being closed since lockdown began in March, and the team has taken the opportunity to shift focus slightly and will become Bartolo Wine Room.

The shift sees a far larger and wider ranging wine list on offer as well as a cocktail menu which has more of a focus on seasonal flavours plus sustainable and local ingredients.

Merlino told The Shout he was excited to be finally swinging the doors back open at the venue.

“It’s exciting times, it’s good to be able to open another one and it’s a step in the right direction,” Merlino said.

He added: “We’ve been trying to since the end of September but it’s a really precarious time for chefs especially at the moment, so it’s been a bit of struggle for staffing. But we’ve found a great Head Chef in Sam Bennett from Glebe Point Diner and formerly One Ford Street in Balmain and he’s got a Hat out there.

“He’s also got a great take on Italian food, and that’s what we doing, Modern Italian with some different influences and leaning it much more to being a wine room this time, which is why we’re coming back as Bartolo Wine Room.”

Merlino explained that in re-looking at how the venue would work, they decided to go much harder into the beverage side of the business.

“We’ve tripled the size of the wine list, so we’re at 170-plus wines now. There’s a brand new cocktail list in there as well, which has beautiful summer flavours and we’ve even put a new slushie machine in there for alcoholic slushies.

“That’s perfect for this weather and considering we can do take-away booze now, we can now do take-away pina coladas out of our coffee window, which is something I never thought we’d be able to do.”

The new menu has a more Italian sharing style to it, with lots of small plates and the venue will initially open Thursday to Sunday nights. Then over December, Friday, Saturday and Sunday lunches will also come back, giving the venue seven services over four days.

Merlino said: “I always built the venue to be a daytime venue, so we’re happy we’re able to open up for those lunches and have some great food and wine along Crown Street. It’s really starting to buzz up there now, which is exciting.”

In terms of the cocktail list, Merlino told The Shout the venue was no longer trying to be any one thing any more.

“We’re looking more at seasonal flavours, things that are in season, that are sustainable and where we can buy of local producers. It’s about not using things that are out of season or that we have to import from overseas. We’ve had to mix a few things up but we’re always trying to find things were we can use Australian produce in the cocktail.”

And it’s the same with the wine list, as Merlino explained: “Traditionally we were committed to 100 per cent Italian or Italian grapes grown in Australia, but we’ve opened it right up and essentially just gone for anything that tastes good.

“We completely emptied the venue during COVID and pushed all the wines out through bottleshop sales at Big Poppa’s, so we had to build it from the ground up. So we met with something like 25 wine suppliers and went through their portfolios and tasted the things that sounded delicious.

“There’s still a largely Italian influence, but there is a lot of Australian in there, a lot of natural, a lot of orange wine and just a lot of delicious stuff really, which is really exciting for us. I’ve got Marco and Harry up there as the Managers and they’ve worked really hard on pulling this together, and they are pretty excited by it all and so am I.”

Bartolo opens its doors for dinner on Thursday and will be open Friday, Saturday and Sunday evening, and is now taking bookings for up to 30 people through the Bartolo Wine Room website.

Andy Young

Andy joined Intermedia as Editor of The Shout in 2015, writing news on a daily basis and also writing features for National Liquor News. Now Managing Editor of both The Shout and Bars and Clubs.

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