International visa-holder and Italian-born chef Andrea Vignali was stood down from his job at Melbourne institution Florentino, due to Australia’s first Covid-19 lockdowns. Not long after, Vignali launched pasta-delivery service Al Dente from his small apartment kitchen – and it quickly became one of Melbourne’s takeaway darlings.

Al Dente’s success was cemented in early 2021 when Vignali and his housemate Davide Bonadiman (also a former Florentino chef), opened Al Dente Enoteca: a sleek restaurant, wine bar and shop. At Al Dente, the menu changes weekly (except for the spanner crab ravioli – a lockdown favourite – which remains a mainstay).

Another highlight might be roast duck and artichoke-filled tortellini, topped with artichoke cubes pan-fried in duck fat. It comes served with a rich duck jus (made from duck bones), which is poured over your dish tableside. Cacio e pepe tortellini – another lockdown classic – makes regular appearances.

Aside from pasta, past dishes have included a marbled Wagyu flank with charred friggitelli (sweet Italian chilli peppers) and fermented black garlic, and a fine-dining take on the polarising pub classic surf’n’turf: grilled scallops topped with burnt onion and crisp pancetta.

If you’re lucky, for dessert Vignali may have his popular torta sabbiosa on the menu. The soft sponge-like cake originates from Lodi in northern Italy, where Vignali was born. It’s a delicate, buttery and light citrus cake served with a brandy-splashed mascarpone custard.

There’s a lot to love about the drinks here, too: the wine list is almost entirely composed of Australian drops, with a huge emphasis on Victorian winemakers. Cocktails include a riff on the classic Negroni as well as a yuzu-flavoured Highball.

You can also get house-made pasta and sauces to-go at the enoteca’s adjoining shop Sapori. Freezers are packed with pastas from the Al Dente back catalogue to cook at home. Pre-made sauces include Sicilian pesto, truffle butter, lemon curd, and slow-cooked lamb ragu and bolognaise.

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Updated: December 11th, 2023

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