In a chef-shuffle that can only really be described as a big win for Sydney diners, changes are afoot at 10 William St which will also bring a significant new player to the heart of the city. Chef Dan Pepperell is moving on, but though his departure will be a wrench for the wine bar's regulars, there's plenty of silver in this lining. Pepperell leaves Paddington to head the kitchen at Restaurant Hubert, a new CBD venture and first proper restaurant from Anton Forte and Jason Scott, the founders of the Swillhouse Group, which comprises Shady Pines Saloon, The Baxter Inn and Frankie's, three of the best-liked bars in town.
And then there's Pepperell's replacement at 10 William. "When Dan told us he was leaving, we likened it to being dumped by your first girlfriend - lots of awkward silent bits and shoe-gazing moments," says co-owner Gio Paradiso. "His future employers are very, very lucky. It'll be a hard act to follow, but we were lucky enough to bring Luke Burgess in, something which came about while we were making sausages at my dad's place in Melbourne."
After closing his Hobart two-star, Garagistes, earlier this year, Burgess moved back home to Sydney. The acclaimed chef will be at 10 William St for a good time rather than a long time, doing his thing from October to January, with a view to doing something more permanent of his own down the track. But, as dishes such as the burrata with white radicchio, anchovy and bay oil, and smoked eel agnolotti with ox tongue and salsa stemperata, which he cooked at a recent takeover dinner at William St may suggest, even if his time is short, it'll be sweet.
"I really like what Dan's been doing there a lot, so I want to take the structure that he implemented and just work with it," says Burgess. "I want to see what works with the wine and what works in that kitchen." Part of the appeal of the gig, he says, is that he has long enjoyed 10 William St as a customer, and relates closely to what they do with the food and wine, not least because the direction of the wine list is simpático with the natural focus of the cellar at Garagistes.
Pepperell, for his part, will be trading guanciale and Parmigiano for guéridon and pâté. While his brief from the Swillhouse team is broadly old-school European with a French lean (Forte says aspic terrines moulded into the shape of sturgeons are on their mood board), they've got him on board to exercise the same creativity that won 10 William a star under his term.
"We wanted Dan because he's just up for stuff," adds Scott. "His food is interesting and delicious, but still rooted in the classics. 10 William is somewhere we like to eat, and Dan has been a ground-zero Shady customer, so we've known him since then… He's a gentleman, a nice guy and we like his food, so we felt it was a natural fit." The carte, the pair say, won't really read like a French menu, but more like Pepperell doing with French food what he did with Italian.
Hubert will open in early 2016 on the Bligh Street basement site currently occupied by Celestial Chinese Restaurant. ("I think real estate agents think of us as basement specialists," says Forte.) And it's going to be big - around 150 seats, with two large eat-in bars, one of which is 12 metres long.
There will, however, be no cans of beer, and no taxidermy. In place of these, Swillhouse staples will be a short list of cocktail classics and a substantial wine list. Scott says his signature playlists will be present - more "gypsy boogie" than Charles Aznavour - as will some form of live entertainment. "There'll be a stage, but we don't want to say much more about that just yet."
The look will be classic but not cookie-cutter. No brass, Forte says, no lipsticked mirrors. "Timber walls and flickering candlelight. It's not a steak-frites brasserie."
And why are the pair getting into the ultra-competitive Sydney restaurant game when they have such a proven track-record in the considerably less risky world of bars? "We love dining out, we're passionate about food and wine, and we feel like we can offer something different," says Forte. "And we feel we can use our experience with bars and venues and fit-outs - we feel like we can bring something new to it. A restaurant that has that proper fun atmosphere and plenty of buzz."
Speaking of buzz, the rumours that the Paradiso gang are doing something new in the neighbourhood of their Challis Avenue headquarters have some substance. Gio Paradiso says they've shelved their plans to do something on Ash Street in the CBD and are instead doing a 20-seat lobby bar at the boutique hotel site currently under redevelopment on Macleay Street next to Yellow. It'll open in July 2016.
"It's super-classic," he says. "Think Hotel Locarno in Rome or The Night Porter but without Charlotte Rampling in bondage gear. Unfortunately."