We are all bestowed with different gifts. Some paint, some write, some decipher Excel spreadsheets with appalling efficiency. Then there are those who can fill a room with such élan and laughter that an atmospheric change takes place and the air becomes light as a soufflé. Such is the gift of Lucio Galletto OAM. Visiting Lucio is like diving into a splendid tiramisu, richly layered with his wit and vivacity.
It is fitting that such a talent belongs to one of Sydney’s most noted restaurateurs. Lucio’s Paddington restaurant is the embodiment of that term so often loosely flung about by pretenders – “an institution”. Lucio’s is the real deal – a well-known haunt of Sydney artists for over thirty years, famed not only for its delicious, classic Italian fare but also for the extraordinary quality of the art lining the Parma Yellow walls.
The restaurant world has always been terra cognito for Lucio. Growing up in Liguria, in a little village near the Cinqueterre, it was expected that he would take over the family establishment Ciccio, the name of which means “chubby” in Italian and reflects a certain Galletto predisposition towards charming corpulence. At Ciccio, Lucio’s mother was the tempura queen who “fried like an angel”. And perhaps at Ciccio Lucio would still be, if it weren’t for an Australian angel by the name of Sally that walked into the restaurant and stole his heart. Lucio and Sally Galletto moved to Australia – the rest is gastronomic history. After a short stint in Balmain, Lucio’s restaurant opened in 1983 on the site of the old Hungry Horse art gallery.
There are several famous art restaurants dotted around the globe. One of the best known is La Colombe D’Or in Saint Paul de Vence on the Cote d’Azur. Tucked away in a medieval mountain top village with sweeping vistas over the South of France, this is where illustrious clientele such as Picasso and Cezanne exchanged meals for timeless paintings. The restaurant now boasts a uniquely sybaritic combination of world-class art and delicious food.
Like La Colombe D’Or, Lucio’s restaurant art collection is drawn from local artists. Not many nascent collectors can say that their first piece was a Sidney Nolan sketch, which the artist produced for Lucio after the spoils of a good lunch in 1984. Nolan had been working as a consultant on the film Burke & Wills and the wrap party took place at the restaurant, which had opened on Elizabeth Street in Paddington three years before.
Nolan’s simple Ned Kelly sketch was treasured by Lucio – he framed the piece and hung it on the ochre walls of the restaurant. When Nolan returned for dinner a few months later, he was so delighted with the gorgeous framing that he gifted Lucio a series of sketches. Thus a collection was cemented, and along with it Lucio’s reputation as a man who cherishes art. Other artists came in time and fell in love with the food, with the ambience, with Lucio (proving perhaps that food rather than flattery is the fastest way to an artist’s heart). John Olsen illustrates the seasonal menus, Luke Sciberras has collaborated on a string of luscious cookbooks and Lucio was the subject of Garry Shead and Adrienne Levenson’s Archibald entry, Soffrito di Lucio.
After thirty years, Lucio’s passion for his work is untempered. He has seen the Paddington demographic evolve from heavily Greek and Italian to young investment bankers and their budding families. Through all the changes, Lucio has dispensed largesse and charm. Whilst the establishment may have moved in, the artistic heart of Paddington is safe in Lucio’s hands.