Over the last few months we’ve undoubtedly seen a trend emerge around the inherently comforting cuisine that is Italian. Rich sauces, grilled and braised meats and specialty cheeses abound. Wonderfully unfussy dishes are elevated with lemon, vinegar, capers, olives and herbs (or all of the above). And carbs – so many carbs – take the form of soft pasta, creamy risotto, crunchy sourdough and flaky pastry.
Grab a glass of red and settle in – here’s Melbourne’s best new Italian.
Italian-American spot Capitano is by the crew who brought us Bar Liberty. Head to this dive bar turned trattoria and they’ll introduce you to the “New York flop”. The clam pasta is a standout, made with dashi broth and loads of butter, parsley and lemon. Wine is mostly from producers who “don't muck around too much” with their drops.
A long-term player in the Italian restaurant scene, Tony Nicolini (co-founder of DOC Carlton, DOC Espresso, DOC Mornington, DOC Albert Park and DOC Delicatessen, has opened a new eatery. Italian Artisans is serving “alternative” pizza, four kinds of Margherita and minimal intervention wine in the south. The antipasto selection is pretty spectacular – Nicolini marries burrata and bottarga, mortadella and stracciatella, and caponata and Salina capers.
Tipico is a modern Italian bistro in a beautiful industrial space, with wood panelling encasing the kitchen, minimalist art on the walls and a statement terrazzo concrete bar in the centre of the room. You’ll find zucchini parmigiana, kingfish crudo and the prosciutto tigella – a piadina-style flat bread from the Italian city of Modena – on the menu alongside staple pizza and pasta dishes. The founders have some serious Italian cred – it’s by Andrea Da Como (DOC, Baby, Builders Arms Hotel) and Marco Scalisi (Ti Amo, Swillhouse Group, Tokyo Tina).
The Broadsheet office learned a new word recently: cannolificio (cannoli bar). At Carlo Mellini’s new west-side spot, you can pick up a box of the Sicilian classics, piped generously full of sweetened ricotta, mascarpone, chopped dark coverture chocolate, candied citrus and glacé cherries, or go wild with an Oreo, Nutella or Ferrero Rocher version. Mellini’s father Achille (Grossi Florentino, Brunetti, 400 Gradi, Zero Gradi) is overseeing the kitchen.
After working there for 19 years, it’s no surprise Matt Picone was the barista at Pellegrini’s who always knew your name. Now, he’s branched out, opening his own pasta bar with his wife, Julia, and dedicating it to his late father. The menu centres around homemade pasta, such as the conchiglie salsiccia (shell pasta with pork and fennel sausage) with crisp cauliflower and rosemary. When you’re done, try The Godfather in place of dessert – Monkey Shoulder scotch, amaretto, fresh lime and orange.
Smith & Daughters
Smith & Daughters chef Shannon Martinez was sitting at home one night, eating a huge bowl of pasta, when she said to herself, “Fuck. How good is this?” That was the kicking off point for the vegan restaurant’s reinvention – a risky move for a spot so well-loved for its Spanish dishes. While still plant-based, every other element of the old menu has been abandoned. In it’s place: vegan beef (dried, shredded mushrooms) and red-wine ragu; a giant schnitzel with lemon, garlic and “parmesan”, grilled radicchio and cavalo nero; and other modern riffs on the classics.
Laid-back Sig. Enzo is modelled on Rao’s, the East Harlem, New York restaurant that’s so popular you need to name-drop to get a table. Co-owner Vince Mazzone, whose relation married a member of the Rao family, says the secret of Rao’s meatballs has made it to Melbourne. They’re made exclusively by Mazzone or his daughter Bella and served in a five-hour slow-cooked traditional red sauce. There are no bookings – simply walk in and grab a spot at the bar or settle into a leather-upholstered booth for some Italian wine and aperitivi.
In a former courthouse dating to 1860, now there’s a larger incarnation of Ciao Cielo, South Melbourne’s well-respected – but previously petite – mod-Italian spot. The dining room now seats 80 (formerly 30), with cracked sandstone walls, a warming fireplace, a long stone bar and blue leather banquettes. Co-owner Kate Dickins’s grandmother Maria comes from Vicenza – a small city in Italy’s north-east – and many of her dishes feature on the menu, with a few 2018 upgrades. Try the Sardinian-style goat with polenta dumplings, olives and fennel.