31 Fitzroy St St Kilda, VIC 3182
|Opening hours||Daily noon-11pm|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
|Payments||Diner's Club, eftpos, AMEX, Visa, Mastercard|
|Phone||03 9525 3999|
Unless I'm wearing a stupid skirt, I'm always happy to sit at the bar. I like grabbing that little slice of workaday restaurant life - the glass polishing, the change counting, the greeting and the grumbling. There's also more opportunity to engage with or spy on fellow diners and to glean must-haves and best-avoids among the dishes and drinks. However, I've never before experienced what happened to me at Bar di Stasio, the new holding pen and hangout next door to love-it-or-hate-it institution Cafe di Stasio.
''Excuse me, sorry to interrupt,'' said a woman at the broad marble bar, leaning over her red wine-braised octopus to peer at my half-eaten dessert. ''Your tiramisu looks like Chopper Read.'' Goodness me, so it did - the sodden sponge biscuits were mean eyes, a layer of mascarpone was lips and, of course, the lack of ears made the resemblance uncanny. It didn't stop me eating it.
Like the rest of my snack-happy meal, the tiramisu is simple and classic, gangster-ish declension notwithstanding. Other nibbles include crumbed eggplant chips (crisp, good), round potato crisps (a bit flabby) and herbed prawn fritters with nice nubbins of shellfish and pleasingly sour dressing. Semolina gnocchi are topped with rich boar ragu - order these one-bite beauties by the piece. Pink grilled lamb cutlets are served with tart chianti relish. The charmingly offhand ''2, 3 or 4 bits of roast duck'' is as plain as it sounds. My bird's moist flesh and crisp skin had suffered from too long under the heat lamps - its jus was deeply flavoured but it had congealed. There are one-plate meals, too - life would feel pretty good if you sank a plate of spaghetti aglio olio and a glass of house red before a night in front of the telly.
The point of contention about Cafe di Stasio has always been the service, which can be gushing or glacial. The bar's waiters wear the same white coats, wield the same florid accents and, in my experience, balance flirtation and efficiency as expertly as any St Kilda Esplanade juggler. The bar is a witty artwork itself, with a Callum Morton installation at the entrance, artily unfinished masonry and a corridor going nowhere. There's also a private room whose walls, I wager, will have witnessed as much debauchery and delight as the main dining room before very long.
3.5 stars out of 5