Ciao Cielo used to occupy 171 Bay Street in Port Melbourne. It was a petite and well-respected restaurant with a clutch of loyal regulars.
But in May 2018 it moved down the road into a courthouse dating to 1860. Over the years the heritage-listed building has housed a nursery, a tile store and most recently Argentinian restaurant Corte.
The space has been transformed into a striking dining room that seats 80. The courthouse’s cracked sandstone walls, wooden rafters and pine floorboards remain; a long stone bar and blue leather banquettes are new additions. A working fireplace illuminates the restaurant at night.
Co-owner Kate Dickins’s grandmother Maria comes from Vicenza in Italy’s north-east, and she was the inspiration for Ciao Cielo.
Dickins runs front of house and owns the restaurant with her husband Bryan, who is Ciao Celo’s head chef. His menu features some of nonna Maria's signature dishes brought into the current day.
Woodfired farinata – a Ligurian-style chickpea pancake – comes topped with pesto. A caprese salad of blanched heirloom tomatoes, goat’s curd and basil is topped with raw yellowfin tuna. Larger plates include a northern-style oxtail ragu gnocchi (one of nonna Maria’s specialties), king prawn risotto and a whole rainbow trout served with pancetta, thyme and lemon. The Sardinian-style goat comes with polenta dumplings, olives and fennel.
Ciao Cucina, a comparatively casual eatery adjoining the main dining room. It has its own courtyard area and fits 150 diners. House-made pasta and woodfired pizzas, cocktails and beer is the go there.