Though Chiara opened its doors only yesterday, Docklands’ latest Italian diner already feels familiar. “I wanted it to feel like it’d been here for a while,” says Gavin Baker (formerly of The Fat Duck), who along with Pete Evans (a My Kitchen Rules judge) and developer Lang Walker, is intent on redefining dining on lower Collins Street.

Joining Bar Nacional and Long Shot, Chiara is a more traditional offering. Dressed in soft woods, hazy copper and white marble, Rod Faucheux of Loop Creative designed a space that’s all about unfussy comfort. “He’s just nailed it,” enthuses Baker. “We’ve got some really cool stuff, from the brass-lined marble tabletops, to these hand-stitched leather banquettes that are modelled off a baseball glove and an Alfa Romeo car seat.”

Chiara’s menu filters classic Italian through contemporary technique. “Most Italian restaurants you go to, they give you some bread, some olive oil and some salt. We wanted that to be the case,” explains Baker. “But there’s a lot of behind-the-scenes stuff you don’t see. The pork belly on the pork-belly pizza is brined for six hours, then rinsed, then confit’d overnight. I like the mountains of work behind a simple dish.”

Pastas are made in-house daily – and not just fettuccini, but conchiglie, casarecce and rigatoni. Pizzas are baked in a brick Boretti oven (“The Cadillac,” says Baker). Otherwise, the menu, designed by chef George Fowler of London’s two-Michelin-starred Pollen Street Social, goes for clean, light and citric, with dishes such as Kingfish carpaccio with capers, raw grated apple, crisp pork belly, and a citrus olive oil dressing. “George has a good mix of classics and discipline and a more creative approach to Italian,” says Baker.

Chiara’s desserts are from the imagination of pastry-whiz Shaun Quade, with dishes such as liquorice ice-cream with hibiscus jelly, two kinds of cake, candied mandarins, crystallised black olives, topped with a liquorice chip. “We get liquorice from Denmark that’s really heavily-salted. It’s put through an ice-cream base, so it’s really full-flavoured,” says Quade.

The wine list, designed by ex-Circa and Golden Fields head sommelier, Jeff Salt is mostly Italian with a few Australian varietals in the mix. “It’s a snapshot of what’s classically Italian from Piedmont all the way to the bottom of the main island, and down into Sicily and Sardinia,” explains Salt.

His favourite is a Timarasso from the country’s north. “There’s only about 15 hectares of the grape planted in the world,” says Salt. “It’s on Premiere Cru Chablis level; it’s really flinty, with piercing acidity, and delicious.”

With mains between $20–$30, Baker believes Chiara will become a mid-week favourite. “You wouldn’t eat here everyday, but you’d eat here once or twice a week,” he says. “If you want to sit around a table with some friends in the middle of lunch, and grab a good bottle of wine, this is a great place to do it.”

Chiara
705a Collins Street
Melbourne 3008

Hours
Mon to Fri 10am–10pm

chiara.net.au