Bishop Sessa Bistro and Wine Bar in Surry Hills is the brainchild of Melburnian nose-to-tail chef Paul Cooper (Pied à Terre (London) The Botanical, The Provincial Hotel, O’Connells Hotel) and industry stalwart Erez Gordon (Jacques Reymond Restaurant, The Botanical, Mezzo (London)).
Both Cooper and Gordon have young families, so adding a young restaurant to the mix wasn’t necessarily in the plan, but they couldn’t pass up the opportunity to take up residence in one of Crown Street’s most iconic sites – the old home of the well-loved French restaurant, Tabou.
Bishop Sessa takes a more casual approach to modern European dining than its predecessor and is focused on local, sustainable produce wherever possible.
Paul Cooper grew up in the Mornington Peninsula region of Victoria and his first hospitality experience was as a waiter at a local restaurant, where he met his now wife, Jaclyn. He soon moved into the kitchen and made his way through the ranks, finally moving to Melbourne to work at Matteo’s and then Bistrot d’Orsay.
Looking for broader experience, the pair headed overseas, travelling through Spain, Italy, France and the UK. Paul worked at several high-profile restaurants including Tom Aikens and Foliage at the Mandarin Oriental (both 1 Michelin Star) and ABaC in Spain (2 Michelin stars), finally landing at Pied à Terre Restaurant, London (2 Michelin stars) for two years working with Shane Osborn. Paul’s experience at Pied à Terre saw him start out working with pastry and bread, and accordingly his desserts and breads are of an outstanding standard. Everything served at Bishop Sessa is made on the premises
When Paul returned to Australia he worked with The Botanical, The Provincial Hotel and O’Connells Hotel before moving to Sydney to start Bishop Sessa with Erez Gordon.
Cooper’s experience at Michelin starred and hatted restaurants has gifted him a sophisticated suite of techniques, whilst his passion for accessible, interesting food and sustainable produce ensures his dishes are attractive to a broad range of diners.
Paul and Jaclyn have a daughter, Madison and a son Riley
Erez Gordon took an unlikely path into hospitality. Starting out at a rough pub making its way to gentrification, Erez was the security guard who explained to the regulars that their old pub had changed. There were knives, a few fights and a gun, but eventually the regulars moved on and Erez moved from the door to behind the bar.
It was a niche that suited him well and when he travelled to London, he ended up behind an entirely different kind of bar consoling celebrities moved on from their tables at the famous Mezzo, a restaurant so busy that no matter who you were, there were two sittings for each table. Returning home, Erez put his resume under two doors, and eventually became the maitre’ d of Jacques Reymond Restaurant and then general manager of The Botanical. After many years as a restaurant consultant, Erez and his family moved to Sydney.
Bishop Sessa – the man, the myth*
Bishop Sessa was a 15th century small town church figure in Italy with a love of food, wine and games in equal measures.
Bishop Sessa’s infatuation with eating and drinking was matched only by his reverence for games, in particular chess and his dedication to the spiritual and physical welfare of his congregation.
For decades the Bishop kept his churchgoers safe from the blood-feud politics of medieval Italy with a combination of political strategy, bartering and religious threats.
When not deeply entrenched in a religious tract Sessa would keep his mind and wit sharp by playing highly strategic games such as chess.
Legend has it Bishop Sessa (BS) once fasted for a week before playing a game of chess with an acolyte. During the fast BS personally carved the game pieces from a local hard cheese. Neither man was permitted to eat until his gamesmanship had provided him with a hard won piece. BS insisted the denial and subsequent game sharpened his mind while strengthening his faith and resolve through adversity and self-denial. There is no record of who won but by all accounts the Bishop was a master.
An avid fan of the local grapes BS made the sacramental wine for his small congregation plus a little extra for his own dinner table from vines grown on a small dusty slope behind the chapel. He could often be found tending his vineyard with an exactitude bordering on the spiritual and in the heavy-handed game of small town 15th century politics his adherence to winemaking principles was offered as an example of his lack of faith and application to the word of god. Nevertheless he never allowed his detractors to interfere with what he referred to in his diaries as “the Lord’s other work”.
Bishop Sessa’s generosity was also legendary. Gifts of fresh meat, fruit and vegetables given to him by grateful churchgoers often found their way into the houses of the poor with the only indication of their provenance being a small chess-board bishop carved from Parmesan left along with the other foodstuffs.
BS died in curious circumstances. He was last seen by passing townsfolk on a clear winter’s day pruning the vines in the chapel vineyard. He failed to return for the evening meal and although his congregation searched for days neither he nor his body was ever found. This has encouraged many to suggest this is proof of his deserved sainthood but to date The Vatican has not seen fit to recommend him for beatification.
*All names and facts in this account have been changed to protect the guilty.