From Naples to Calabria, these Melbourne hotspots will take your tastebuds on a gastronomic tour of Italy.
Rosetta Ristorante, Southbank
Frock up for this Neil Perry showstopper located riverside at Crown. Rosetta is a sophisticated riot of mahogany walls, Murano chandeliers and marble floors but despite the flash interiors and clientele, at heart this authentic Italian fine-diner is all about the ingredients. New head chef Angel Fernandez, an alumnus of Sydney’s Rockpool, presides over a slimmed-down but still staunchly seasonal menu of antipasti, primi, secondi and dolci that retains house favourites such as the agnolotti with roasted rabbit, veal and pork. The encyclopaedic wine list offers more than 600 labels, including a range of affordable and interesting Italians.
400 Gradi, East Brunswick
It’s a proven fact that Johnny Di Francesco makes the world’s best pizza margherita; the Melbourne pizzaiolo took out top honours at last year’s Pizza World Championship in Parma. His buzzing East Brunswick bistro (also at Crown) offers all the greatest hits of la cucina Italiana but the don’t-miss dish is that pizza margherita. The toppings are sparing but top notch – San Marzano tomatoes, pungent basil, buffalo mozzarella and an optional (but highly recommended) smear of fresh chilli in oil. And it’s all about the base – precisely 35 centimetres of agreeably salty, deliciously chewy, piping-hot dough smoky with charcoal from Gradi’s wood-fired ovens.
Bar Di Stasio, St Kilda
Its marble bar, plaster walls and Callum Morton installations give it the air of an art gallery but Bar Di Stasio’s spirit is irrepressibly Italian. This lively offshoot of the celebrated Café Di Stasio shares the same kitchen, so its menu is far more accomplished than your average bar. Expect full-flavoured arancini Bolognese, sensationally al dente spaghettone la gricia seasoned with toasted pork cheek and Pecorino, and finger-licking lamb chops with Chianti relish. Drinks offerings range from ice-cold, amaro-spiked Roman mules to the dizzying temptations of one of the finest wine lists in the capital.
Chef Riccardo Momesso (ex Sarti) has come home at Valentino, the buzzing restaurant in genteel Hawksburn that pays tribute to his Calabrian roots. For the best views, take a seat at the antipasti bar and watch as Momesso douses suckling pig in Amaro del Capo liqueur, slow-braises goat ever so simply in olive oil and surprises the unwary with spicy ndujasausage, plates of tiny, tangled neonata fish and more-ish fava bean dip with prawn pieces and Pecorino. The wine list brims with intriguing Italian grapes but the emphasis is on Calabrian and Sicilian vintages, to enhance the southern comfort.
UPDATE: This location has closed permanently
Scopri is a relative newcomer to Italian-accented Carlton but its approach to hospitality is reassuringly old school. Staff are bright and personable, noise levels are modest – even when full – and the lighting is flattering and low without making the menus illegible. The menu roams freely throughout Italy and does everything well, from a Milanese risotto with venison osso buco to a Roman-style, slow-roasted Berkshire porchetta with borlotti beans. Bread is baked in house and dispensed generously; the wine selection is adequate but diners can also BYO for just $10 corkage.