Back in August, contemporary Italian diner Sarti closed its large red doors after more than 13 years of service. Co-owner and restaurateur Joe Mammone (Il Bacaro, Bar Carolina, Tetto di Carolina), together with partners Michael Badr and Marco Tenuta, has now turned the diner into a more fun, easy-going – but still very Italian – eatery.

Interior design and architecture studio Chris Connell Design, which worked on Bar Carolina, has taken the previously dark and moody diner into a fresh, bright new zone in just two months.

“We wanted to create an environment that is cheerful, relaxed and playful,” says Badr, who manages front-of-house.

Moving the bar from the middle of the restaurant to the side opened up the dining room. New burnt-orange leather benches play off against blond timber flooring, a large marble communal table and white-tiled walls. And there’s now a 30-seat private dining room toward the back of the restaurant. The all-seasons rooftop courtyard remains, with a brick facade on one side and rows of windows from the neighbouring apartments on the other.

Badr says the name Marameo comes from what the Italians call “thumbing your nose”, and that it’s usually associated with a hand gesture. It’s representative of the cheekiness the team hopes to inject into the diner.

Head chef Geoff Martin has been with the team for more than eight years. He’s redesigned the menu so it’s simpler than the Sarti format. “There used to be long descriptions of dishes on the menu,” Badr says. “But it’s now easier to read.”

Start with some Italian salumi (mortadella, bresaola, San Daniele prosciutto), cheeses and antipasti, or a savoury cannolo filled with Wagyu tartare, topped with vinegar and caper powder. A dish of diced Moreton Bay bug comes with sweetcorn and salmon roe on a thin carrot crisp.

Pasta is all made in-house. The popular Sarti dish of jet-black squid-ink spaghetti with blue swimmer crab, fresh tomato and fish roe has made the leap over, but there’s also cavatelli (small shell pasta) served with pan-fried pork sausage and broccoli puree, as well as fresh tagliatelle with rabbit and hazelnuts.

If you want to go big, grilled proteins include barramundi with zucchini, mint and capers, and a pork chop cotoletta with fresh fennel and cabbage. A hefty 780-gram Cape Grim dry-aged rib eye is $85, but all the pastas are under $30, and daily happy hour specials have been introduced, such as $2 oysters and a $15 cacio e pepe spaghetti at lunchtime.

For something sweet, order the bigné (doughnuts-like Italian cream puffs) stuffed with white-chocolate mousse.

Badr and sommelier Tom Maiden have created a dedicated cocktail and spritz section for cheeky afternoon aperitivos. Forgo the typical Aperol version – try limoncello and elderflower, or tequila and grapefruit.

Australian and Italian wines feature heavily, but there are now popular red and white varieties from France and Slovenia, including chenin blanc, ribolla gialla, gamay and cabernet blends.

6 Russell Place, Melbourne
(03) 9639 7822

Mon to Thu 12pm–10pm
Fri 12pm–11pm
Sat 5.30pm–10pm