PROFILE BY BEST RESTAURANTS
Tucked inside a large office building on Berry Street, Bel Paese is one of North Sydney's oldest restaurants. At the heart and soul of this Italian stalwart are husband-and-wife duo, Pino and Chris Russo, who have owned Bel Paese since 1990.
The first thing you notice about this restaurant is the welcoming and warm sensibility of the Bel Paese team. From Pino and Chris, the owners and also maître d's, to John, their head waiter, who has been with them for 18 years, every single staff member is clearly passionate about the hospitality industry. The waiters aren't uni students, they are knowledgeable about the menu and wine list, suggesting popular items or clarifying any ingredient queries.
The restaurant space is open with floor-to-ceiling glass windows offering 270-degree views of a small garden oasis, complete with a water feature and manicured lawns. The tables are all wide apart and the high ceilings swallow sound, so you can actually have a conversation while you eat. It is the perfect space to take a business client where the food impresses, yet the space is still quiet, creating a professional environment to discuss any private matters.
More than just a business lunch destination, Bel Paese has a loyal following of local clients who return meal after meal, to appreciate what, owner Pino, describes as "classic Italian food". The menu represents the entire Italian spectrum with antipasto, whitebait fritters and prawn linguini for primi while the secondi options range from slow roasted pork belly, eye beef fillet with red wine jus to baked scampi and veal scaloppine topped with sage and prosciutto.
A simple wild mushroom and eschallot tart is topped with a watercress salad, that adds a freshness to the buttery filling, with the entire dish has the perfect pastry-to-filling ratio. In simple dishes such as these, the proof in the pudding is all in the ingredients so it's of no surprise that I discover that at 4am every week, Pino can be found at the Flemington markets wandering the stalls to find the freshest of zucchini flowers and the most flavoursome of herbs. Beyond the ingredients, every member of the kitchen staff have Italian roots and Ridolfi, their head Chef, travels home to Italy once a year where he returns to the Bel Paese kitchen inspired and invigorated. Bel Paese is a true Italian restaurant with its warm and unwavering hospitality and relaxed but sophisticated atmosphere.