La Madonna is a cavernous, golden-lit restaurant and bar on Next Hotel's third-floor. It's by Danny Natoli (Zia Rina’s Cucina co-owner and ex-Neptune Food and Wine head chef) and Adrian Li (also of Rina’s, Tokyo Tina and the now-closed Saigon Sally).
When you enter the 80 Collins-precinct space, you’ll be struck by a sweeping marble staircase (with a dramatic chandelier made from hundreds of gold chains); a suspended ceramics installation; a grandiose, four-metre-high glass cabinet for cheese and charcuterie; and an area cornered off by a wall of barrels filled with aging cocktails, spirits and herbal liquors.
Start at the bar with an amphora-aged Negroni, which swaps out Campari for St George Spirits’ Bruto Americano, blended with Widges gin and Mancino rosso vermouth. Or there might be a Martini matured for two weeks in ex-chardonnay barrels, and a Manhattan that’s spent four weeks in new charred-oak barrels.
Next, move on to the restaurant, which features classics from Rina’s. There are riffs on traditional Italian dishes, as well as some less obvious offerings.
Highlights may include smoky ox-tongue skewers with salsa verde; crisp chicken-wing parmigiana; and pappardelle with slow-cooked beef, pork and fennel ragu. Or perhaps try figs with pine nuts, spiced leatherwood honey and gorgonzola, smashed like carpaccio because Melburnians like smashed things. They also do an oxheart tomato compressed in white soy, stuffed with stracciatella and sitting in basil and yuzu oil.
For dessert, there may be a decadent ice-creamy riff on cannoli. Li makes a Valrhona dark-chocolate shell and fills it with frozen chocolate mousse made with chocolate from the Mornington Peninsula’s Cuvée Chocolate (as well as bitter Fernet-Branca).
Wine lists favor Italian varietals. There’s sagrantino and nero d’Avola as well as smaller run bottles such as the Stoney Rise chardonnay from the Tamar Valley and the Inkwell Road to Joy Shiraz primitivo from McLaren Vale.