Alta Trattoria is based on the humble trattorias in Piedmont, in north-west Italy, where the menus are simple and wine is abundant. It’s the realisation of a concept by restaurateur Carlo Grossi (Ombra, Grossi Florentino) and sommelier James Tait (King and Godfree), who credit frequent trips to the Italian region and a love of its barolo for wanting to bring a piece of it to Melbourne. The pair are joined by two more partners – chef McKay Wilday (who worked in the Grossi stable before a stint overseas at Geranium in Copenhagan) and restaurant manager Luke Drum (ex-Carlton Wine Room) – who'll be on-ground at the intimate diner, which opens on the corner of Brunswick and Victoria streets today.

In Piedmont, says Tait, trattorias tend to have encyclopaedic lists of local wines, then the best of the rest of Italy, and a selection from Burgundy and Champagne. “When I asked why that was the case, I was told that French wines are what winemakers like drinking on their days off,” he explains. Alta is following in the same vein with a strong Piedmont focus as well as drops from Tait’s favourite producers from the rest of the country, some beautiful French wines and then a small Australian section at the back of the forest green leather-bound list.

Although the focus is on the wine (Tait is building an offsite cellar to house it all), there will also be a small selection of Piedmontese and Milanese style aperitivo and digestivo to bookend the experience. For beers, Alta is keeping it local with Molly Rose and Hop Nation on tap.

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The food is similarly faithful to the trattoria vibe, heroing classically made modern dishes from the region. “I cook like a nonna, but I plate up like a Michelin chef,” says Wilday.

The vitello tonnato is made with veal girellos, brined and roasted off to pink in the centre with a thinner, more elegant sauce and fried capers. Where the tartare in Piedmont is made with beef from white Fassone cattle, Wilday uses handcut (not minced) Wanderer barley-fed flank from Gippsland, served with egg yolk and lingue di suocera (mother-in-law’s tongues), a crispy flatbread with olive oil and rosemary.

You’ll also find the two main types of pasta from the region: tajarin (long ribbon tagliolini) with rabbit ragu and ravioli del plin (tiny, pinched ravioli) with sugo d’arrosto, a simple sauce prepared with the drippings and juices from a roast. Wilday suggests ordering a few entrees, which drop all at once, including focaccia, anchovies in verde sauce, and salami, then sharing pasta and mains.

The chef favours working with only one farmer and has established a good relationship with Ramarro Farm, which will supply produce for the seasonal menu. So while the pastas will remain the same, their sauces will continue to evolve. “For example, when the birds come in, you can make a pheasant del plin and it will be the best del plin in the world,” he says.

Just off Brunswick Street, the venue, previously Little Odessa, has had a superficial makeover with dark wood and forest green features, and cream walls offset by a Marian Drew still life memento mori and a large and riotously colourful abstract by Catherine Clayton-Smith, plus interior olive trees and a rosemary bush at the door. Two vintage Danish waiter stations and a matching bar trolley for amaro and digestivo complete the fit-out.

“We want it to be fun and relaxed,” says Tait. “You can keep it simple and drink dolcetto and have a beautiful bowl of pasta, but if you want to come and spend money and drink beautiful barolo and other wines from Piedmont and elsewhere, you definitely can.”

Alta Trattoria
Ground Floor, Rear 274 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy
9417 0526

Hours
Mon to Fri 6pm–11pm
Sat 12pm–2.45pm & 6pm–late
Sun 12pm–3.30pm

altatrattoria.com

This article was updated on February 27, 2023 to amend the translation of lingue di suocera, which means mother-in-law’s tongues.