In spite of Melbourne’s wealth of culinary options, how often do we yearn for a simple bowl of pasta and a glass of wine? While pasta itself is timeless, the ingredients used and how it’s presented evolves constantly. From tortellini to cannelloni, gnocchi and gnocco, spaghetti and fettuccine, we all know how we like it cooked and what we like it with. Most of us also have our own opinion on what al dente actually means, for one man’s al dente is another’s inedible.
We thought we’d give you a run down of six of the best bowls in town.
The beauty in naming your bistro after a gypsy (Gitan, meaning gypsy) is that you’re given licence to wander around exploring European flavours and cuisines – taking a little from here and there as you go. Bistro Gitan does just that. The Reymond family’s new eatery overlooking Fawkner Park in South Yarra is more than just a French bistro, with the menu meandering through Italian flavours. Pasta, of course, is a delicious inclusion. The piccata of chicken livers with pappardelle, balsamic and watercress, is a textural feast of plump livers, fleshy pappardelle and a well reduced piquant sauce made complex with balsamic vinegar.
We love this long-standing café, with its sharp waiters serving up simple, fresh bowls of pasta throughout the day. Mario’s keeps the flame of old Fitzroy burning; it’s getting busier and busier in the inner north, but with Mario’s there’s respect to what was and an easy acknowledgment of what’s ahead. The pasta section on the menu holds its own. Penne matriciana or puttanesca as well as fettuccine pesto all have a permanent place on the menu, but it’s the lasagne that’s hard to go past. It’s simple, tasty and the hangover cure of champions.
The restaurant that brought macrame back to the dining table, Lupino opened late 2011 and hit the ground running with simple, approachable Italian food. Richard Lodge and Marco Lori know a thing or two about Italian restaurants (the two were business partners previously at Becco) and their sharp menu of pasta dishes are a testament to their experience. Casareccia amatriciana, lasagne and tortelloni – sometimes filled with beef, other times chicken in an intense broth – are the stars.
We love the familiar buzz of Carlton Espresso – the coffee machine hissing and humming, the Italian staff bantering about service, the customers crowding the room and the open kitchen where piadini, focaccia and hearty pasta dishes are swiftly made and ferried out to hungry customers. Pappardelle with porcini mushrooms and truffle oil and the simpler-than-simple organic spaghetti with tomato and basil are favourites. Check out the pasta of the day and always finish with an espresso – the coffee is consistently good.
It’s not a big space by any means, but Umberto Espresso Bar on High Street has made big steps to becoming a fast favourite of the Thornbury community. Old-school Italy meets the inner north’s urban, fast-moving lifestyle. This father and son business is a place for a quick stop, even if just for a coffee and the pasta. If carbonara is your thing, then this one’s definitely worth trying; pancetta, onion, garlic and egg bind al dente spaghetti in a twirl of generosity. That said, it’s hard to go past the veal ragu. As the name suggests, coffee is important to Umberto Espresso Bar. Try one, it’s good.
People come to rely on their favourite restaurants to serve them consistently good food and give them a great experience, and Becco is a much-loved and relied upon space in the city. A restaurant with a plethora of fans and regulars, Becco was setup down a laneway before it became popular to do so. Chef Elizabeth Egan is a deft hand at Italian food in a broad sense and the restaurant’s pastas are well worth your time, particularly the spaghetti marinara. Depending on availability, it’s tossed with Queensland prawns, local calamari, local snapper, black mussels and vongole in a bianco sauce (an emulsion of olive oil and white wine) with a touch chilli, garlic and lots of Italian parsley.