Mister Bianco Location: 285 High Street, Kew, Melbourne, VIC Contact: 03 9853 6929 Mister Bianco has an offering too good to refuse – gorgeous, authentic Sicilian flavours and hearty southern Italian dishes finished with the sense of refinery that one would expect from someone of owner and chef, Joseph Vargetto’s experience. Blending modern European techniques with traditional Italian influences, Vargetto (of Langton’s, Number 8 and Mezzo fame) brings a wealth of experience and finesse to this local favourite. The restaurant falls within the fine dining category yet disposes of the pretentiousness that one might experience at fine establishments elsewhere. Service is friendly yet relaxed, the decor is intimate with white-clothed tables and low lighting, but the atmosphere oozes a pared back feel.
Meatball and Wine Bar Location: 135 Flinders Lane, CBD, Melbourne, VIC Contact: 03 9654 7545 Most of you would be familiar with the Meatball and Wine Bar. Melbourne’s first artisan meatball restaurant, which launched in the CBD and has now expanded to three outlets across Melbourne, has quickly become renowned for its highly customisable meatball offering, which includes balls of the beef, chicken, pork, fish and vegetable varieties. Once you’ve picked your balls, ordering is a simple affair – add a hearty, creamy or light sauce and something for your balls to sit on (who can go past a good ol’ mash?) and voila, you’ve got yourself one lip-smacking meal.
400 Gradi Location: 99 Lygon Street, Brunswick, Melbourne, VIC Contact: 03 9380 2320 By the time Johnny Di Francesco of Melbourne’s 400 Gradi was 17 years old, he was already managing his own pizza section at a restaurant in Carlton and had been making pizzas for over 5 years. This was, of course, all while Di Francesco was studying an electronics engineering degree at university; determined to pursue his passion in the kitchen, Di Francesco would attend university during the day, and then continue to work in the pizza restaurant at night.
Merricks Creek Wines Location: 44 Merricks Rd, Merricks Victoria Contact: 03 5989 8868 http://merrickscreek.com/
Trunk Location: 275 Exhibition Street, Melbourne 3000 VIC Contact: 03 9663 7994 There are a lot of things to love about Trunk. There’s that adorable side diner, housed in a shell of its own, which serves up some hella hearty American-style loaded fries, diner dogs and moreish brioche-bunned burgers. Then there’s that gorgeous garden to the front, peppered with large wooden communal tables and gorg-ified by the loveliest strings of fairy lights. Oh, and, if you’re in a mind to take that date of yours to the next level, you can easily transition to the indoor restaurant and bar which dishes up equally satisfying meals, albeit in a snazzier environment.
Carmine’s Bistro Location: 234 Lygon Street, Carlton Contact: 03 8658 3442 http://www.carminesbistro.com.au Carmine’s Bistro is hidden in plain sight, sat amongst the sea of restaurants along Lygon street. Perhaps it is the familiarity and ubiquity afforded by this stretch of little Italy that makes it hard to stand out. It can be hard to be a flamingo amongst a ‘pat’ (yes I had to look that one up).
Itali.Co Location: 1/173-177 Barkly St Contact: 03 9537 5300 Jutting out on the corner of Barkley St is Itali.Co. Surrounded by glass with a slatted ceiling and warm light, the atmosphere is spacious, airy and welcoming. With woodfired pizzas, handmade pasta and slather of drinks it’s artisan Italian food in a crisp modern setting.
Bistro Bakini Location: 568 St Kilda Rd Melbourne, VIC 3004 Contact: 03 9521 7774 We were first introduced to Bistro Bakini last year by a food blogger, Ashley (of ‘I’m so Hungree’), whereupon we immediately fell in love with the restaurant’s refreshing take on fine Italian food. Headed by head Chef Luigi Buono, whose previous endeavours include Caffe e Cuccina, Vino Bar, Bond Street and Orto Kitchen and Garden, Bistro Bakini recently pushed the boundaries of Italian fare with the launch of its one-off Masters of the Mediterranean degustation menu. We attended a media night recently to preview the dinner ahead of its official launch at the restaurant.
I am constantly astounded by the quality and diversity of food that is offered in Melbourne. Having recently returned from travelling and working overseas (where I had the pleasure of dining at quite a few Michelin-starred restaurants), I can comfortably say that Melbourne offers some of the best restaurants and cafes in the world, which, believe it or not, I much preferred over their Michelin-starred counterparts. This past month I have been very ‘busy’ re-acquainting my palette with Melbourne food. Here are a few favourites that I’d happily eat at (over and over) again: Hinoki Japanese Pantry Location: 279 Smith Street, Fitzroy, VIC 0065 Contact: 03 9417 4531 Fonda Mexican Location: 248 Swan Street, Richmond, VIC 3121 Contact: 03 9429 0085 Jinda Thai Location: 7 Ferguson St, Abbotsford, VIC 3067 Contact: 03 9419 5899
Lazerpig Pizza Parlour Location: 9-11 Peel St, Collingwood, VIC 3066 Contact: (03) 9417-1177 We rarely find pizza that’s on par with 400 Gradi + DOC, but Lazerpig is firmly up in the same ranks. The dough is light and fluffy; the toppings not too heavy or sparse. The margherita is dangerously delicious and addictive, and (dare we say it), better than Gradi’s version. Watch out kids!
Here’s to a quick wrap-up of our team’s recent favourites. Smith St Alimentari Location: 302 Smith St, Collingwood, VIC 3066 Contact: 03 9416 1666 Housed in the former residence of Gorski & Jones, Smith St Alimentari is a cross between a local deli and bustling cafe. Whip up your own with the quality ingredients on display, take home one of the impressive pre-made meals (the quiches and lasagnes look sublime), or laze around in the beautiful cafe / restaurant space for breakfast or lunch. The egg white omelette is one of the better brunches we’ve had to date – packed with protein, dukkah, feta and pockets of smoked salmon. It’s a must order.
Southgate Moveable Feasts Location: Southgate Melbourne Contact: See website here This Winter, Southgate Melbourne has been host to a series of ‘Moveable Feasts’ where Melburnians and Melbourne-lovers alike can savour three tailored courses at three separate venues (with matching wines). That means that you begin your feast at one restaurant and then, when it’s time to change over, your host will ring a little bell and guide you to your next eating destination. A rather innovative concept, and one that’s a warm welcome to those looking for a comprehensive introduction to three new eateries without the need for excessive waits between lines. The whole experience sounded too good for us to pass up, and we were delighted to accept an invitation a couple of weeks ago for a Sunday session with Artusi, Amarok and Bluetrain Restaurant. The full list of participating restaurants contains some old and new scenes, from the recently opened Hophaus Bar to Pure South Dining. We began our entrees with a sit down at Artusi, a modern Italian wine bar and dining establishment facing the waterfront. Brand spanking new, the Artusi dining area is clean and crisp, with the restaurant focussing on producing artisan handmade pastas, whole roasted duck, suckling pig and fish created in their new wood fired oven.
Bistro Bakini Location: 568 St Kilda Road, Melbourne VIC 3004 Contact: 03 9521 7774 Avoiding the increasing hustle-and-bustle of the CBD, Bistro Bakini is situated along the breezy calm banks of St Kilda Road. The intended locale allows the restaurant to marry its hearty comforting Italian fare and relaxing alcoholic/caffeinated beverages to a setting perfect for those seeking to unwind. Entering the restaurant, the layout and ambiance of the place speaks casual chill-out. Complete with a long bar, the comfiest plush leather seats in the front room, an open-plan kitchen in the back room, a quiet private room to divide the front and back, a large alfresco area outside perfect for summer, and soft delicate lighting with a background track of neo-jazz, there is something for everyone here for any time of the day. Staff are dressed in casual attire and always friendly. Even the manager gets in on the fun – waiting tables, joking with customers and having a shot with us, just because!
Dolcetti Location: 223 Victoria St West Melbourne, VIC 3003 Contact: 03 9328 1688 Seating just a handful of customers, pint-sized Dolcetti is a small Sicilian pastry and cake shop with enough charm to win over even the slightest of sweettooths. While the shop does do a few savoury goods (think soups and arvo tea), sweet treats are definitely the main deal here, so it’s pretty hard to go by the beautifully decorated mini cheesecakes, strawberry and pistachio tarts and fruity danishes encased in the glass cabinet to the front. Things get a little tricky though when you spot the platters of biscuits encrusted with nuts on the top counter. They’re impossible to resist, and you’re guaranteed to want to take at least one of these babies home.
Cecconi’s Flinders Lane Location: Basement, 61 Flinders Lane Melbourne, VIC 3000 Contact: 03 8663 0500 Following Melbourne’s newfound affinity for casual dining, there are only a few restaurants left where they’ll hang your jacket, pull out your chair and fold your napkin across your lap. But it’s exactly this sort of charm and attention to detail that carries a lot of weight at Cecconi’s. Set in a basement towards the loftier end of Melbourne CBD, stepping into Cecconi’s feels like entering a world of its own – the space is elegant and softly lit, with white-clothed tables and rich dark walls. Staff are polite and friendly, knowing exactly when to interject and offer assistance and when to leave you to banter. Behind a veil-like wall is, I presume, a private dining area, providing an intimate dining experience. It’s a classic setting – nothing overdone, and what one would expect of a fine dining restaurant.
Vapiano Location: 347 Flinders Lane Contact: 03 9620 3335 It was only a year ago that international Italian restaurant chain Vapiano first opened its doors in Melbourne, adding to the 120+ stores sprawled across the globe. The concept, born in Europe in 2002, is a relatively unique one for the Australian dining scene: a sort of cross between an upmarket buffet and plush canteen, yet accompanied by the comfort of a restaurant. Pasta is made on premises – a quick scan around reveals a huge glass room occupied by waiters churning out fresh pasta at lightning speed. The space is kitted out with wooden sharing tables, all adorned with cute little pots with herbs to add for taste. The ordering process is easy: each customer is issued with a chip card upon entry, which is then used to place orders for food and drinks from the various stations peppered around the room: antipasti, pasta, pizza and salads. Once you’ve ordered, you simply collect your cutlery, wait for your plate (if you’ve ordered a pizza, you’ll be issued with a convenient buzzer), collect it from the counter and then take it back to your table.
Trotters Location: 400 Lygon St, Carlton, VIC 3053 Contact: 03 9347 5657 I wandered into here by accident – on a early weekday morning, Trotters managed to be the only one in the vicinity (apart from Brunetti) that was open. Open entering, I was pleasantly surprised how hip and absolutely huge Trotters Bistro was – the restaurant is expansive, and lined with wooden boards and signs all over the walls. It’s a funky place, and a great venue to sip away at coffee and lounge around in.
The Italian Restaurant and Bar Location: 101 Collins St, Melbourne, VIC 3000 Drawing on the prestige of the landmark 101 Collins Street building that houses it, The Italian Restaurant and Bar features plush red leather booths, white table clothed seating arrangements, impeccable service, and a simple and authentic Italian menu.
Cucina di Esposito Location: 162 Elgin St, Carlton, VIC 3053 Contact: 03 9347 9838 Cucina di Esposito is all class. Nestled in Elgin Street, the suave Italian restaurant is decked out with glossy artworks, pristine white table cloths, and authentic Italian fare; a combo which has seen its owner in the business for over 20 years.
Serving the same classic Italian menu that we experienced at DOC Mornington earlier this year, DOC Carlton delivers addictive pizzas using excellent produce and that roaring pizza oven, all in the confines of its simple, contemporary setting in Drummond Street.
Saint Peters is well hidden down a rather dimly-lit lane off Russell Street; if you don’t slow down your stride, there’s a good chance you’ll miss it.