When he arrived in Melbourne almost a decade ago, ambitious Italian chef Paolo Arlotta didn’t mess around; he quickly landed a job at one of the city’s best restaurants – Vue de Monde.
In recent years he’s been freelancing, though, most notably running Herbivorous Nights, an intimate north-side vegetarian dinner series, which regularly sells out a month in advance.
But now Arlotta has channelled his broad CV into a single venture: Riso, a daytime cafe and night-time restaurant, taking over the Young Bloods Diner space at Fitzroy’s Rose Street Market.
The menu for both is “Italian-inspired, but nothing you would expect from a classic Italian restaurant”, Arlotta says. That equates to seasonal, sustainable, local produce, with a focus on low-waste, healthy dining. And everything is vegetarian, with plenty of options for vegans.
During the day, you might get rye focaccia with pickled zucchini, fermented buffalo ricotta and pesto; or ciabatta with braised radicchio, sauerkraut, pear, comte and walnut-mustard sauce.
The cafe serves coffee from Brunswick roaster Ona, initially for takeaway only. Eventually, it’ll open late as a restaurant on Fridays and Saturdays, serving six-course degustation dinners in the vein of Herbivorous Nights (which are currently available to takeaway).
When restrictions ease, the dinner menu will include dishes such as cacio e pepe risotto with black garlic and burnt eggplant; pesto tortelli with stracciatella and koji butter; and baked brillat-savarin (a triple-cream cow's-milk cheese) with preserved figs.
The name Riso comes from the Italian word meaning both rice and laughter – two things Arlotta hopes his first permanent venue will have plenty of.
“I come from a region in Italy where rice production and risotto are kind of the main thing in the cuisine, so it’s an ode to my roots,” he says. “[The word] also means laughter, which is the vibe we want to cultivate through our service – really friendly and casual, but always with high-quality food.”
The former industrial space, which has been brightened up with sapphire paint and lots of plant life, is already split into three zones – a main dining room, courtyard and the rooftop.
Arlotta hopes the indoor-outdoor dining room can be set-up to meet any new rules for al fresco dining.
Riso is takeaway-only during Melbourne’s stage-four lockdown. It’s currently serving sandwiches, pastries and coffee, and Herbivorous Nights at Home packs for $50 per person (plus $10 delivery) on Friday and Saturday nights. Email Arlotta here for more information or to place an order by Tuesday night.
Tue to Sun 8am–2pm
This article was updated on October 12.