In November, Pietro Barbagallo quietly opened the doors of his new restaurant Mr Pietro on Grattan Street, Carlton.
It’s the kind of no-fanfare approach that Barbagallo is known for, and it’s reflected in Mr Pietro’s down-to-earth dining and decor.
The one-page menu features Barbagallo’s signature, in his own words, “lo-fi Italian soul food” and the white-walled space is filled with warm wooden furnishings such as polished floorboards, an assortment of bentwood chairs and a custom marble-topped wood bar.
Upstairs, a future events space and wine-tasting room is home to burnished blood-red chesterfield sofas and vintage furniture from Barbagallo’s back shed; he also designed the restaurant’s fit-out.
This hands-on approach has earned the 48-year-old chef a legion of fans at his Italian restaurant Kaprica in Carlton South, and at his previous restaurants I Carusi in East Brunswick and I Carusi II in St Kilda. And Mr Pietro is likely to attract the same attention.
“I like to travel under the radar, but obviously my restaurants never end up under the radar,” says Barbagallo.
He says the secret to his success is “keeping it real and keeping it human” with happy people, smiling waiters and home-style food that’s reasonably priced. There’s also not an Italian flag in sight.
“I am of Italian origin, but I don’t wave the Italian flag. We’re not selling Italy. I’m not a trained chef. We’re just making food that I’ve known from my family,” says Barbagallo, who grew up in Swan Hill and Geelong after his parents emigrated from Sicily in the 1950s.
At Mr Pietro, this influence can be seen in an octopus salad that’s a slice of Sicilian summer, and a rich, red “baccala pomodoro” (cod poached in tomato), which is so popular with customers plates are returned mopped clean.
Seafood will continue to play a starring role on Mr Pietro’s menu, and while Kaprica lovers will be pleased to know there are pizzas on the menu, they will play second fiddle to pasta and meat dishes.
Barbagallo has also heeded popular demand by adding Kaprica’s gnocchi with tomato and mozzarella to the menu here.
“I use local produce and organic where possible. I would rather not buy things from Europe; it doesn’t make much sense when you have good stuff here,” he says.
The wine list, for example, pays particular attention to Victorian makers.
“Personally, I don’t have that connection with Europe or Italy. My friends and family are here, and my heart is with the smell of the gumtrees.
“When I put a restaurant together, I’m not thinking Italy. I’m thinking us – and us here and now. Obviously there are European influences, and that makes our culture. But it is Australia. It’s Melbourne.”
50 Grattan Street, Carlton
(03) 9349 2167
Sun to Thu 11am–10pm
Fri & Sat 11am–11pm
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