There’s a famous Roman pasta dish called cacio e pepe. It’s just Pecorino Romano, black pepper and sometimes butter – a simple, easy delight. That’s not to say all versions of it are equal. Owner Flavio Carnevale's is a particularly delicious version due to the ingredients he uses: pepper from North Queensland, Pepe Saya butter, DOP Pecorino and pasta made in house.
Carnevale has just launched Marta, a restaurant specialising in cacio e pepe and other hallmarks of Roman cuisine. “The flavours … are very simple and straightforward,” he says. “We call it cucina povera [loosely translated to: poor people’s food] – just using one ingredient and making it spectacular.”
Carnevale and head chef Christuan Jordaan serve a mixture of the cuisine’s classic and modern dishes, as well as some Australian takes on others. “We want to give a lighter spin to things. An example is skate wing; in Rome it’s served in a Romanesco broccoli, pasta and tomato soup. Here we pan-roast the wing and have some fantastic Romanesco on the side.”
For something classic try the house-baked bread; pinza (a flatbread-like pizza made with a mixed-grain dough Carnevale imports from Italy); a broad bean, pea and zucchini-flower risotto; or a simple roast chicken (corn fed and juicy) with capsicum and a tomato salsa.
The drinks list has a similar balance. Many wines on the list are from Lazio (the region Rome is in; it’s underrepresented on Australian wine lists). Innovative biodynamic producers share the page with more classic bottles. “It took me about three or four months to get all the wines I wanted. We have about 20 to 30 wines specially imported for me.” Some of which will be poured, old-school style, from custom-made amphora decanters.
The cocktail list is by restaurant manager Iain Codona, and will mix the expected Italian range (Aperol spritz, Negronis etc.) with some fun tweaks, such as the Fatto a Amano done with a custom-made vermouth, Grand Marnier and aranciata (an Italian orange-based soft drink).
Like many other new venues opening in a highly competitive environment, the main idea is to be accessible to all. That’s achieved by keeping the prices reasonable (pasta under $25 and mains around $30), and also through the design (by Melbourne’s DesignOffice). Although it has a dark colour palette it’s well-lit, open-air and can provide different experiences; regular tables are complemented by a good amount of bar seating and outdoor dining. “I want it to be like the place I worked in Rome, they had superstars (he has a story about the prime minister coming in on his first day), they had kids. It was all very organic,” says Carnevale.
Tue to Sat 5.30pm–10.30pm