You might think that the prospect of opening an Italian restaurant in Tokyo – your first internationally – would be a stressful one. For Marco Ambrosino and the brothers Giovanni Paradiso and Enrico Paradiso, the three co-founders behind one of Sydney’s most beloved Italian establishments Fratelli Paradiso, the experience has proven to be a surprisingly zen one.
“Our stress levels are so much lower in Tokyo,” the restaurateurs told GRAZIA, three months after bringing their singular brand of third wave Italian cuisine to the third floor of the Omotesando Hills shopping precinct. “Its been teaching us to observe and sit back a little more.” The trio, who also own Sydney’s 10 William St, made the move earlier this year in collaboration with the Transit Group, a cultural engineering company who’ve played a significant role in exporting stalwarts of Australian restaurant and café culture – Bill Granger’s absurdly successful chain of eponymous cafés; neighbours The Apollo and Longrain; and Guzman y Gomez, surprisingly – to Tokyo, where the demand for the lifestyle such ventures entail is high. “The Australian dining scene is bringing [a] real sensibility to dining, its approach has stripped back the layers,” the trio infer by way of reasons for the sudden preponderance of Australian restaurants and dining experiences making waves in international markets, particularly those in Asia. “[It is] approachable, seasonal, connected and relevant.”
Though it may seem like an odd fit, the Tokyo connection was a seemingly natural one for the three restaurateurs, who opened their flagship Sydney restaurant in 2001. Sadahiro Nakamura, the president of Transit, apparently visited the original iteration of Fratelli Paradiso “a long time ago” and “saw the potential for Fratelli Paradiso in Tokyo.” The restaurant’s head chef at the time, Toshiyuki Nakayasu, who had decamped to Japan in 2015, has since returned to the fold as part of the operation.
Despite being a world away from home, the three maintain that they’ve retained the original’s focus on seasonal and produce driven food across their new 90-seat venture. Recipes from 10 William St have also been brought in in accordance with seasonality and the availability of produce sourced directly from small organic local farmers. As always, an emphasis on sustainability and quality of produce is key to the operation – an ethos that’s easy to abide by when staples like “shellfish and tomatoes are insanely good.” Naturally, the Pasta Scampi makes an appearance.
It hasn’t, however, been a totally seamless transition owing in part to the inevitably culture clash between worlds. The trio attribute the style and the way in which the Japanese eat and drink as being amongst the challenges that they were unprepared for prior to their arrival on the scene. “[There’s] lots of sharing food, [and] no real sequence to the way they eat; [plus] no drinking at lunch. They have a love of sweets too. But we have stayed true to [the] Fratelli Paradiso style; we don’t want to become another Japanese Italian restaurant. We don’t go into a sushi joint and ask the chef to adapt to our tastes. We serve the food we believe in.”
There are, naturally, other formative elements of the Fratelli Paradiso experience that haven’t been lost in translation. The wallpaper, produced in collaboration between designers Jonathan Zawada and Mary Libro, has made the leap onto the walls, lining paper, business cards, tea towels and tote bags; as has the characteristically spirited service, who echo the chorus of Italian words that invariably rings out on arrival and departure. Together, they estimate that less than five per cent of their patronage thus far has been Australians in search of a reliably excellent bowl of pasta. Theirs, evidently, is a brand with resonance felt around the world irrespective of Potts Point postcodes.
“We have learnt so much about ourselves and our brand,” the team say, reflecting on what the experience has brought to their table. “Having to translate your ideas and vision for Fratelli Paradiso constantly makes you understand what you really do. We’ve learnt we are successful because we have a vision and attitude that is unique to us. Japan has taught us to listen and to be reactionary and candid a little less.”
Adjacent to the restaurant entry is a mural, in stark black and white. It’s an appropriation of the raised fist symbol of a radical left-wing group called Lotta Continua (the Struggle Continues) that operated in Italy in the 1970s. Here, however, a raised fist bursts forth from the neck of a wine bottle clutching a fistful of grapes that cascades into a wine glass beneath (for what it’s worth, the restaurant’s wine offering has been curated specifically for the local market; “The natural wine scene in Tokyo is one of the best in the world”, they add). Its inclusion here is “not as political as everyone wants to make it.
“Basically it loosely translates to the eternal struggle to keep fighting for what you believe in and to never give in to mass beliefs”, they add by way of explanation. As for where to next?
“Anything is possible. We are curious and open to explore and experience everything.”
Tile and cover image: Courtesy of Fratelli Paradiso