A restaurant of his own was never part of Italian chef Paolo Arlotta’s plans. After stints at Vue de Monde, Tipo 00 and Kinfolk, he hosted regular Herbivorous Nights pop-ups at Fitzroy’s Young Bloods Diner.

When the eatery closed at the height of lockdown, he took a chance and decided to make the vegetarian degustation (or something like it) permanent.

“I never planned to open a restaurant. I was thinking, ‘Should I? Shouldn’t I?’ but then the opportunity came up and I said yes,” he tells Broadsheet. “I like situations like this – where I can challenge myself in difficult times and do what people might think is crazy.”

Since September, Riso has operated as a cafe with pop-up nights on weekends. But with sommelier Tim O’Donnell (ex-L’Hôtel Gitan, Movida and Private Dining Room pop-ups) joining the team, they’ve taken it to the next level.

Now, Riso is an all-day diner and wine bar, featuring an Italian-inspired à la carte menu that changes daily (check the chalkboard for the day’s dishes) and a 40-strong wine list.

From the bar menu you can get arancini and focaccia and, in the coming autumn weeks, dishes such as braised pumpkin with browned butter; house-made pappardelle with gorgonzola cream; risotto with chicory puree and pecorino romano; and cavatelli with fermented potato cream.

The wine list carries a lot of texture, thanks to a decent representation of skin-contact drops from local winemakers. There’s pét-nat kombucha from Monceau, as well as house-batched Negronis and the Melburnian – a take on the Manhattan using spirits by local producers.

Sustainability is a key focus at Riso. Many of the materials used in the refurb were recycled or reclaimed, and ingredients are sourced locally and seasonally where possible. When products need to be imported – such as rice from Arlotta’s hometown – the restaurant offsets its carbon emissions by planting trees via Rainforest Rescue’s Daintree restoration project.

Arlotta also extends that sustainable focus to his staff, making sure they’re treated with respect so they don’t burn out. He’s long encouraged people in the hospo industry to find balance with his Chefs of Yoga mindfulness sessions, and believes if the person cooking a meal is happy and calm, that’s transferred to the dish.

“This is why I say sustainability in all its shades. Often restaurants focus on one aspect, but they forget that sustainability is about the bigger picture,” he says.

Young Bloods’ bright yellow tiles, metal stools and distressed walls have been replaced by beautiful teal walls and plants in every corner (with more coming soon), creating a breezy and light-filled space. Arlotta’s already using the atrium terrace to host private events, with plans to open it for additional seating soon.

Riso
60 Rose Street, Fitzroy
0450 700 394

Hours:
Fri to Sun 10am–late

risodiner.com