The Australian - Wish Magazine - - FOOD -

There was mo­ment at a steak restau­rant in Tus­cany when War­ren Burns was given the death stare by a lit­tle old nonna sit­ting at a nearby ta­ble. His of­fence was that he had taken out his mo­bile phone from his pocket and placed it on the ta­ble. Burns was trav­el­ling around Italy with his busi­ness part­ner and child­hood friend, James Bradey, look­ing for ideas to set up their own restau­rant spe­cial­is­ing in steak– bis­tecca in Ital­ian – back home in Syd­ney. The so­cial sham­ing got Burns to put his mo­bile phone away and in­stead helped shape the ex­pe­ri­ence that was to be­come Bis­tecca.

“At the end of the night, we had a good chat and we re­ally en­joyed our­selves,” Burns ad­mits of dis­con­nect­ing from his phone. “So we thought let’s not touch our phones for the rest of the hol­i­days and so our phones did not come out at din­ner. We thought if we can try and do this in Syd­ney, get peo­ple away from their phones. We don’t want to piss peo­ple off but we are here to try and cre­ate an ex­pe­ri­ence and we think you will en­joy your time more if you put your phone away.”

Mo­bile phones, how­ever, were never the main fo­cus of Bis­tecca, it was sim­ply good food and good booze. And more par­tic­u­larly, a revered Tus­can cut of steak – bis­tecca alla Fiorentina – that Bradey and Burns came across. That is the only main course they serve in Bis­tecca, lo­cated in a bunker on Dal­ley Street in the CBD, with en­try through a laneway. Cut and weighed and pre­sented to din­ers, the steak is then cooked over char­coal in an open hearth that dom­i­nates the 50-seater din­ing space. The restau­rant, which opened to crit­i­cal ac­claim in July, also has a cock­tail bar and a wine shop.

“Peo­ple come in here and for a mo­ment, they for­get where they are,” Burns says of the un­der­ground restau­rant (which also has tiny lock­ers to put away your mo­bile phone away for the night). “Be­cause we are in the base­ment, there are no out­side win­dows, they can’t see the out­side and it helps them im­merse them­selves in what we want to achieve.”

Bradey and Burns met at age 12 at high school in coun­try NSW (Burns grew up on a Black An­gus cat­tle farm and Bradey de­clares him “def­i­nitely part heifer”). They went into hos­pi­tal­ity to­gether after work­ing in pubs in the United King­dom while trav­el­ling. They started off as dish­wash­ers and never thought it would turn into a ca­reer (Bradey has de­grees in ex­er­cise phys­i­ol­ogy and in­te­rior ar­chi­tec­ture) but the pair loved it and quickly rose through the rank in top es­tab­lish­ments.

They re­turned to Syd­ney in the late 2000s and were hor­ri­fied at the lack of good bars and restau­rants on of­fer. “The con­cept of hos­pi­tal­ity did not ex­ist,” says Bradey. “So we thought, let’s just do our own thing.” They were among the first en­trepreneurs to take ad­van­tage of NSW’s small bar li­cence changes and opened Grandma’s Bar in a base­ment on Clarence Street in the city. It was a hit. Next came The Wild Rover in Surry Hills and Wil­helmina’s and Burg­er­hood in Bal­main. Bradey and Burns then spent two years work­ing on Bis­tecca and scour­ing the city for the right site. “Just do­ing one thing and one thing well holds us in good stead long term,” says Burns of the spe­cial­ist Bis­tecca. “We are not a flash in the pan. We want to be an in­sti­tu­tion. We want to be here in 30 years’ time: when you are in Syd­ney, you go out for a steak at Bis­tecca.”


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