We might be a city of shifting dining whims, but our love of scampi, split and grilled in their shells, next to a tangle of spaghetti wearing vermillion tomato sugo and chopped parsley like edible couture never falters. That’s why it’s always a roll of the dice for how hard it’s going to be to get a table at Fratelli Paradiso for lunch on a weekend.
This simple dining room with a giant chalkboard on one wall stands staunch in its consistency in the face of a dining scene fixated on the hot new trend. This is the kind of Italian fare that makes a 24-hour flight seem worth it, but you can get it for an Opal fare to Kings Cross Station. The menu rarely changes and walks a righteous path of carbs, cheese and meat. There’s usually a ragu delivered under a fresh snowfall of cheese. There’s probably a one-serve lasagnetta on the menu, the curly-edged pasta sheets barely holding in a bursting core of bolognaise, but it’s a toss-up whether it wins a place over a crumbed veal cutlet.
We shouldn’t have to prod very hard for you to order the one-kilo bistecca Fiorentina, a pageant-worthy cut of black angus beef cooked rare. It’s worth every one of those 30 minutes they devote to cooking it, because the result is a podium finish for Sydney’s best steaks. The char on the outside is bronze perfection, and each slice culminates in a deep blush of pink at the heart. Put down that regular, everyday salt. A steak like this deserves special treatment, which is why you’ve got crisp fried salt capers that you crumble over the meat – a fresh garlic and herb oil is unnecessary window dressing to this clean, rich beefiness.
There’s a whole lot of European gesticulation going on here, both from the accented floor staff greeting regulars like they’re family and from diners recanting grandiose tales over a simple plate of burrata and tomato, the restaurant equivalent of an almanac telling us that spring has sprung. Everyone’s getting multiple kisses on cheeks, and even the children are seasoned pros, clearly raised at the Inner East school of behaving in restaurants.
Wines lean naturalish, but not so far that they’re not an easy-drinking good time in the middle of the day, but a Giospritz of Aperol, prosecco, orange and an olive really completes the picture. As does gelato (mango and vanilla on our visit) or a extra fluffy tiramisu. And coffee, of course, because at this point you’ll do pretty much anything to extend the fantasy that your life is one of regular Italian long lunches, which they make look very convincing at this mainstay of the Sydney restaurant scene.