It’s easy to miss this tiny restaurant underneath the Temple Court apartments. But don’t let its size fool you. Owner and chef Joseph Vargetto pays close attention to the essence of Italian cooking and well understands the power of simplicity.
Vargetto’s resume is vast. He worked for Crown at Number 8 and owned Oyster on Little Bourke Street for five years. Now his trio of restaurants includes Massi, Mister Bianco in Kew and Fondanta 1872 in the Yarra Valley.
Before all this he apprenticed at three-Michelin-star restaurant Gualtiero Marchesi in Northern Italy, where he learned the value of simplicity, seasonality and regionality. These ideas still inform his menus today – dishes rarely use more than eight ingredients.
Take the squid ink spaghettini with clams. It’s light, fresh and comes with a tomato and white wine broth to add balance and colour. The ricotta gnocchi with osso buco is a favourite among regulars. No wonder: the beef is so tender it’ll take a few attempts to try and keep it on your fork. For dessert, commit to a classic and order the tiramisu served in its own copper pot, or try a generously stuffed cannolo for something bite-sized.
There’s a sense of theatre here. Chefs duck out of the kitchen to cut prosciutto San Daniele at a dedicated slicing station. The burrata with caponata of peppers, onions and char-grilled zucchini is smoked at your table under a glass cloche for flavour and dramatic effect.
The mostly Italian wine list, which changes every couple of months, features small-scale local growers.
Vargetto looked at 30 different sites before settling on this one. He kept some of the original features, such as the marble bar, stainless steel fridges and leather seating. The various wood panelled spots got a touch up, and circular Fornasetti prints were added to the walls. The result is intimate and playful.