Scott Pickett reckons he’s rolled a million maccheroni in his lifetime. It’s meditative, he says, rolling out the small tubes of freshly made pasta. Occasionally – and without warning – he’ll fling a piece across the room, rejected for its imperceptible imperfections.
It’s this love of the pasta-making process that led Pickett (Estelle, Matilda) to reopen the former Saint Crispin space, which operated as the Broadsheet Kitchen for the past six months, as Lupo. But Pickett says he’s not setting out to make traditional Italian food. He’s just making pasta, and he’s doing it with some untraditional ingredients.
Pickett owes his own pasta obsession to acclaimed British chef Phil Howard, who he trained under in 1999 at London restaurant The Square, which had two Michelin stars at the time. Pickett remembers Howard as having a wild, freestyle approach at odds with the stern restaurateurs of the era such as Marco Pierre White and Gordon Ramsay. Pickett says the old world of fine dining is at odds with freedom in the kitchen. “They hate it. They like systems and structure and I hate systems and structure”, he says. “Why can’t I just do something a bit different and a bit wild?”
Along with head chef Charlie Watson (Eleven Madison Park) and executive chef Stuart McVeigh (Saint Crispin, The Botanical, London’s Pied a Terre), who both also worked under Howard, Pickett’s designed a menu that combines his love of handmade pasta with a lack of boundaries. Lupo isn’t wild, necessarily, but it’s not traditional Italian either. Opening a pasta restaurant in Australia, Pickett says, as opposed to Italy, provides immense freedom. “It’s one of our greatest gifts but also our greatest downfall. We’re not steeped in any tradition.”
You’ll see this creative freedom in a combination of crab, scallop, basil and sunrise lime (a pear-shaped golden citrus fruit) in the spanner crab lasagne, which Pickett dedicates to Howard. And in the squid-ink linguine with sardine vinaigrette and bottarga. Or the Japanese dashi – in this case made using roast potato – with Yukon gold potato tagliatelle and garum, a fermented Roman fish sauce.
Most of the pasta dishes can be made gluten-free using rigatoni made with chickpea flour. The gluten-free pasta is also vegan, but you'll need to check in with floor staff about vegan sauces.
Black-truffle risotto is cooked to order, which Pickett says causes the rice to produce a cloud of starch, giving it a fluffy texture. And for an extra $25, the kitchen will add black truffles to any dish on the menu ("some obviously are better suited than others," Pickett says).
The other star is the hare cappelletti – a small parcel of pasta stuffed with hare shoulder, celeriac, chestnut and mustard fruits, a combination that pits the gaminess of the hare delicately against the sweetness of the mustard fruits.
The Oops I Made a Viennetta, a reference to the classic Streets frozen dessert, came about when the chefs were trying to produce a chocolate ripple ice cream. "We make the ice cream using liquid nitrogen and on the first attempt at pouring the hot chocolate into the bowl of the mixer, it set instantaneously," Pickett says. "This produced crispy chocolate throughout the slice, so we gave it the name ... [But] it's more of a play on words than a true Viennetta."
Drinks here, too, flit between traditional and modern. Expect plenty of classic Italian such as a rustic Yarra Valley barbera from Rob Dolan Wines, great with that hare cappelletti, and a light and fruity nero d’avola from Cielo in Sicily alongside a couple of bold, skin-contact orange wines. There are five whites, five reds and a handful of orange wines regularly on-pour among a more extensive bottle selection.
The spirits and cocktail list is smart and compact and has a focus on Italian and Australian aperitifs that provide a balance of bitter and fruit to charge the appetite pre-meal. Cocktails are mostly based on bitter amaro. The Barrelled Negroni is Four Pillars Dry Gin, a bitter orange aperitif from Adelaide Hills, and Regal Rouge vermouth. More herbaceous is the Too Soon (Poor Toms Gin, citrus, and Cynar, a bittersweet artichoke-based liqueur).
The Saint Crispin space has had a minor rejig with help from Studio Calero, the design firm behind the art direction and branding at Tipo 00, Osteria Ilaria and Sunda. Gone are the banquettes along the northern wall – in their place are round tables, so the space feels cosier. The new colour scheme is soft green and a very Aperol-esque orange. The open kitchen remains, so you can watch the hypnotic rolling of fresh pasta as you sip vermouth. Like on the menu, everything else fades into the background against the main attraction – the pasta.
300 Smith Street, Collingwood
(03) 9419 2202
Mon to Thu 6pm–late
Fri to Sun 12pm–3pm, 6pm–late