Your favourite Chinese restaurant has been reborn. As an Italian restaurant.
It felt like a move out of left field when brothers Cameron and Jordan Votan moved their immensely popular Happy Boy eatery to the far end of Fortitude Valley. Even more so when Cameron Votan announced the charming old brick warehouse original would close and be converted into an Italian restaurant.
But there was method to the madness. “It was such a great opportunity because it allowed us to very efficiently start something new,” Cameron says.
While the team considered a couple of different directions with the new cuisine, including Southeast Asian and provincial French cuisine, Italian food was a clear winner because it shares so many similarities with the Chinese dining style.
“The family-style way of sharing is what both have in common,” Cameron says. “That’s what Happy Boy is famous for, so we thought we should really try and approach Italian the same way here.”
It’s just as no fuss as their original venue, right down to the name: italian food restaurant, all stylised in lower case. That’s the Votan brothers’ typically straightforward and unpretentious approach. The pair is notorious for keeping the design of their restaurants simple and steer clear of fancy plating.
Similar to Happy Boy, they’ve continued with their efforts to showcase lesser-known regions with dishes hailing from Veneto, Piedmont and Liguria, among others.
Head chef John Sperenza, a Queenslander with Italian heritage, has organised the menu into “smaller”, “larger” and “sweet”, with the option of a $45 or $55 banquet. Perhaps surprisingly it’s protein and produce focused, with only a single pasta dish available. Standouts include insalata di carne crudu; a beef eye round with olive and parmesan toast; and cappelletti, a pork filled pasta in beef broth with silverbeet and mushroom.
“We really want people to think of this as a constantly changing menu with a few perennial favourites,” Cameron says, “but be able to come in and have something really of the season.”
As always with the Votans the wine list is impressive and detailed, all-Australian but geared towards Italian varietals. There are a rotating by the glass options available for those who want to try something new.
Though the food and wine offerings are elevated and the space is sleek and modern, Votan is wary of anything becoming unapproachable. “I don’t want anything fancily plated. I want it all to allude to a home-cooked meal,” he says, adding everyone should feel comfortable to ask about unknown menu items.
“It's about sharing, it’s about good value,” he says. “Feeling like you can explore things safely that you might not have seen before – both food and wine – and then just really nice, hospitable service.”
italian food restaurant
2/36 Mein Street, Spring Hill
No phone (bookings online)
italian food restaurant will be open for dinner Tuesday through Saturday until the end of the year. Beginning January, they will take on regular hours Tuesday to Sunday between 5.30pm and 9pm.