“I’m not sure if you know,” Matty Miceli says, like he’s letting me in on something. “But every Italian family has at least one lounge room or sitting room no one ever lounges or sits in.
“All the wedding presents from the ’70s and ’80s get put on display and are never used. It’s a thing with Italians.”
So if you’re wondering about the delicate, hand-painted crockery at Fitzroy’s new Sicilian restaurant Mr Ottorino: no, it’s not ironic grandmother-chic. It’s legit grandmother-chic – after co-owners Miceli and chef Matt Tine raided their families’ cabinets.
Mr Ottorino opened in late April on the site of the former Commoner, a restaurant with a loyal following of diners.
You’ll notice there’s no pizza at Ottorino, and only one or two pasta dishes. Miceli explains the menu is based around the Italian migrant culture and la cucina povera (poor-man’s cooking) that people – specifically his and Tine’s grandparents – brought with them to Australia in the ’50s and ’60s.
It may seem funny to bring up cucina povera when talking about mains ranging from $26 to $38. But the ideas of self-sustainability and creative resourcing behind this food still have currency today.
A simple pine-mushroom risoni is flavoured with peels of chicken skin. A barbequed lamb breast comes with Mr O’s own honey, harvested from the storeroom roof.
Drinks, bar a couple imported beers from Sicily and Sardinia, are nearly all Australian. Even the limoncello is from Bass River.
The owners’ grandparents are present in more than just their gifted plates. A wood-fired, whole baby chicken stuffed with rice is Tine’s grandmother’s recipe. So is the homey, baked eggplant melanzane (“it will make you leap out of bed when you’re on your deathbed”, Miceli says). The restaurant itself is named after Tine’s grandfather, who was a pastry chef.
Beyond the main dining room, there’s a 20-seat courtyard at the back, and three private dining spaces upstairs. There are also a few stools around the bar from which you can watch the kitchen.
122 Johnston Street, Fitzroy
(03) 9415 6876
Tue & Wed 5.30pm–11pm
Thu to Sun 12pm–11pm