Caffe e Cucina

Romantic: Inside the cosy Caffe e Cucina.
Romantic: Inside the cosy Caffe e Cucina. Photo: Angela Wylie

581 Chapel St South Yarra, VIC 3141

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Opening hours Mon - Sun 12 Noon to 11 PM
Features Accepts bookings, Licensed, Gluten-free options, Vegetarian friendly, Family friendly, Outdoor seating, Wheelchair access, Bar, Romance-first date, Events
Prices Expensive (mains over $40)
Payments Diner's Club, eftpos, AMEX, Cash, Visa, Mastercard
Phone 03 9827 4139

I really like chocolate, walnut and blue cheese but I've never been tempted to cook them up together. Chocolate and walnuts, yes. Walnuts and blue cheese, absolutely. The tricky triumvirate? No thanks.

Because I was so sceptical I had to try the (savoury) chocolate tagliatelle with walnuts and blue cheese at Caffe e Cucina, the 26-year-old restaurant that taught Chapel Street to say "ciao bella" and that has hosted one in every 29 of Melbourne's marriage proposals since it opened in 1988. My statistic is fabricated but I bet it's not far wrong. The proposals occur regularly on the romantic Romeo e Giulietta balcony. Stand there and you'll feel the charge of thousands of full hearts. And if you're heading up there yourself, pray your beloved says "yes" because the minimum spend is $230.

Caffe e Cucina is a dim, pleasant and weathered mood piece. The flirty waiters make diners feel adored and respected. The wine list takes an easy jaunt around Italy and nothing is too expensive. But the food can let the good vibes slide. We weren't given bread, nor did it appear on the menu and no other table had any either. Wheat-phobia is rife but bread is a basic offering.

Gnocchi di zucca: pumpkin gnocchi.
Gnocchi di zucca: pumpkin gnocchi. Photo: Angela Wylie

A signature prawn and pineapple salad was fridge cold, lacked dressing, and included woody chunks of pineapple core. Lamb cutlets were flaccid, fatty and overcooked.

And that chocolate tagliatelle. The pasta was thick and gluggy and the only thing that saved the dreaded combination from damnation was the fact the chocolate offered a cocoa tinge but couldn't really be tasted and the walnuts were scattered sparsely, as though they cost as much as 22-carat diamonds. The dish tasted like flour and cream and felt like a chef trying too hard.

A special of pork ragu with casareccia pasta tubes was better: simple, salty, comforting and on the table in five minutes.

Tiramisu is a sozzled triumph.
Tiramisu is a sozzled triumph. Photo: Angela Wylie

Tradition won again with the tiramisu: a sozzled triumph of mascarpone, biscuits and coffee, and easy to swoon over.

Caffe e Cucina has won many Melbourne hearts in its proud history but the food needs to improve to keep the love alive.

Rating: Two stars (out of five)