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.

He spent a couple of years there honing his fine-dining skills, before taking a more relaxed turn at popular pasta spot Tipo 00. He went on to helm the kitchen at vegetarian cafe Kinfolk.

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.

60 Rose Street, Fitzroy

Tue to Sun 8am–2pm


This article was updated on October 12.