Restaurant News

Coming soon to Sydney: a Negroni aperitivo bar with food from a former sous chef at The Apollo

There are 12 Negronis on the menu and a sizeable roster of post-dinner digestivi – from Amaro Montenegro to Sorrento-style limoncello. The food line-up is all about Italian share-plates, plus free Negroni-infused salami sticks.

By Callum McDermott
A classic negroni. Photo: Will Horner
"I'm a Negroni drinker," says Raffaele Lombard. "I've been drinking them for years, but I can never find one I like in Sydney, even if I go to the top cocktail bars." So Lombard asked his bartender brother Daniel – "who makes the best Negroni ever" – if he wanted to open a Negroni bar with him. They sat with the idea for a little while, before a space came up in Surry Hills, in a former convenience store that was abandoned at the onset of Covid. Now, Bar Conte, their own aperitivo and digestivo bar, is due to open next month.
Raffaele's brother Daniel, who's worked as a bartender for Merivale, Icebergs Dining Room and Cucina Porto at the Star, is taking care of the bar. There'll be 12 Negronis on the drinks list, including the classic Negroni; regional variations; close friends such as the Bicicletta; descendants like the Negroni Bianco; and antecedents such as the Milano Torino and the Americano. There'll also be a range of wines and craft beers.
Later in the night, digestivo, aperitivo's after-dinner counterpart, becomes the main focus.
"I'm from the Amalfi Coast," says Lombard. "I'm a lover of Limoncello, and I can't have a meal without a Limoncello straight after – so we're going to have a good range of digestives." There'll be a range of all the classic digestivos – such as Amaros, Sambuca, Mirto and Fernet Branca – alongside some lesser-known entrants.
Negroni Bianco. Photo: John Paul Urizar
The 30-seat room is designed by Lombard's wife and business partner Victoria Hampshire. Hampshire is an accomplished designer whose portfolio includes everything from beach clubs on the Italian Sorrento Peninsula to bars in Singapore. She's designing a clean, modern space filled with marble and polished concrete; punctuated by old-school Italian furnishing and finishes. Rather than a conventional bar with a high counter, drinks will be prepared at something more closely resembling a cocktail station, at table-level – "so you stand around the station where the Negroni gets made, like you're at someone's house," Lombard says.
The kitchen will be open, too. Chef and co-owner Steven De Vecchi, who previously worked as sous chef at The Apollo in Potts Point, will be cooking nearly everything on a Lacanche range cooker, imported from France. He's designed a menu of small, share-style plates, designed to be enjoyed over your aperitivo. Bar Conte is also working with Pino's Dolce Vita Butcher to create a range of free snacks to enjoy with your drink, in true Italian aperitivo hour style.
"We're going to make a big batch of Negroni, send it to the butcher, and it's going to infuse with salami for six weeks, then we'll serve it as salami sticks for free," Lombard says. "This is how it works in Milan – all these little pieces of food that complement the aperitivo."
Covid, rain, labour shortages – life, everything – means that there's plenty of work to do between now and opening day. But if all, or at least most, goes according to plan, Bar Conte is looking at a mid-to-late May opening date. Until then, head to Caffe Conte next door – which the team opened two weeks ago, and is serving excellent coffee and fantastic paninis.
Bar Conte
340 Riley St, Surry Hills, NSW
@barconte_surryhills