Katie McCormack is nervous about Lagotto, the all-day Italian diner she’s opening in a few weeks’ time in North Fitzroy. It’s the third restaurant from her and brother Michael under the Milieu Hospitality banner, but it’s their first foray into breakfast.
“From what I know about cafes, people want the drink list to range from chai lattes to matcha. But it’s unfortunately not Italian,” she says. “They expect that you should be able to mix and match. That’s not to say you can’t get eggs on toast if that’s what you ask for, but it’s not where we’re pushing. Our strength is in our simplicity. I’d rather do 20 things exceptionally well than I would 50.”
This philosophy – nailing the basics and then, if there’s room, kicking things up a notch – holds true at Congress, the pair’s swish Collingwood wine bar, and at Future Future, the lively Richmond Japanese joint they opened with business partner Stefanie Breschi.
David Fisher, formerly sous chef at The Grand Richmond, will head up the kitchen. Ideas being thrown around for breakfast include pine mushrooms with rosemary sitting on buckwheat polenta; the last few tomatoes of the season with stracciatella on toast; or cacio e pepe eggs with slabs of pancetta and slow-braised cannellini beans.
At lunch there’ll be just five plates a la carte – maybe two pastas, two meat dishes, one seafood – bolstered by items from Lagotto’s provedore such as Sicilian tuna focaccia with rocket, lemon and peppers; asiago and pickled vegetable piadinas; or a little salumi with gnocchi fritti (fried bread). There’ll be a similar offering at dinner.
“We bake bread every single day, culturing butter, caramelizing malt,” Katie says. “To me, that’s fine dining. The piadinis, focaccia, the pasta, the cannoli, the bombolone [custard-filled doughnuts], they’ll all be made in house.”
Expect a tight but widely varied 20-bottle drinks list that jumps between Italian growers and Aussies producing Italian drops, from barolo to soave to the occasional grappa, with a mix of minimal intervention and more traditional methods. There’ll always be a bottle to take away for under $25, too.
“I don’t subscribe to one particular dogma,” Katie says. “Number one, it must be delicious, and then I work backwards from there.”
As with Congress, Lagotto sits underneath a new apartment block owned by Milieu Property, of which Michael is co-owner. The McCormacks ran a pop-up there before the site was bulldozed, chatting with locals and getting a sense of what people felt the area was missing.
“We all like having a 7-Eleven on the way home, but we wanted to create a space that was a response to what the neighbourhood needed, rather than [seeing] who picks up the lease and what they envision,” Katie says. “In that pocket you have to almost get in a car to get a coffee, [but] when you travel to any little town in France or Italy, there’s always that spot on the corner that’s day-to-night that is many things to the community.”
The interiors, designed by Flack Studio (Gabriel), addresses the tricky brief of creating soul and comfort in a painfully new space. Stone features heavily in the 30-seat dining room, and a separate bar area (with a commanding red marble bench nicknamed the “prosciutto bar”) seats 14.
“It’s incredible, it’s over the top. It’s the antichrist of [Congress],” Katie says. “Restaurants inherit character from the walls, the floor, from its history, and you don’t often get that when you go into a new development.”
The provedore will also serve takeaway coffee and wine and stock elements to create quick at-home meals such as polenta, ready-made boar ragu and Grana Padano.
“We don’t want to be a special occasion spot,” Katie says. “We want the food and wine offering to be awesome but not to be exclusive. It’s super Euro, it’s all about the neighbourhood, it’s really local. The refinement comes from that simplicity.”
Lagotto will open at 1 York Street, Fitzroy North in early to mid May.