Go-to dish: Crab spaghetiini. Photo: Simon Schluter
It's a tale (or is that tail?) of two cities finding a review subject for this week's seafood edition. Fairfax's Sydney representative, Terry Durack, grabbed his surfboard and caught a wave straight to North Bondi Fish, where just a few metres from the sand he was free to ruminate on the rare sympathy between fried flathead and chips. In Melbourne, however, there was nothing to do but contemplate the paucity of new seafood restaurants in a city that has never afforded them much significance.
But no, barked our editor down the line from her deckchair in the Bahamas. ''New-ish and seafood-ish will have to do then, and you'd better make sure it's good-ish, Dubecki.'' And so to Fatto Bar & Cantina, which is both new-ish and seafood-ish (if you squint your eyes and tilt your head to the left) and, pleasingly, quite good-ish.
It also affords some handy parallels to North Bondi Fish, which was recently transformed from North Bondi Italian by new owners. Fatto has gone the other way, as the newly Italianised former Trocadero, which barely made its first birthday before operator Frank ''Stokehouse'' van Haandel read it the last rites.
Summer setting: Fatto's terrace. Photo: Simon Schluter
Occupying a curving sweep of upper-level Hamer Hall, Fatto is also in spitting distance of a significant body of water, although may the gods protect anyone contemplating a dip in the Yarra. Whatever, it's very pleasant to grab January by the horns from a seat on the terrace, with one of the finest views of the central business district from the far bank.
Trocadero's decor was notable mostly for its industrial grey grimness, but a revamp has let the sunshine in. Fatto features a showroom's worth of shiny white tiles, handsome dark timber floors and tables and the odd breakout splash of red. It's light and bright and breathes far better than its earlier incarnation.
The wine list also enjoys a simplified second life. No longer is it the splashy show-off list that takes your wallet hostage, but an easygoing collection of stuff that wraps itself around the Italian theme. If you're after a bargain, there's a $7 prosecco happy hour. Me happy.
Long-time van Haandel kitchen head honcho Anthony Musarra is behind a menu that makes a virtue of simple, ballsy Italian flavours. It's an overexploited subject that suits the Arts Centre crowd's attention deficit disorder, and a seasonal slant towards seafood is the irresistible hook line.
The octopus - poached trunks of rare softness - with a southern Italian slant of green and black olives, bay leaves, lemon rind and chilli, is the pick of the 10-strong appetisers. Hervey Bay scallops come on the shell with a thin scrunch of pancetta and dice of fresh tomato. The dressing has a keen hand on cabernet vinegar that scythes through subtlety. Also good are the pork and veal salsicce - naked nubs of pan-fried sausage - heavy on the fennel seed, with wilted greens and truffled pecorino.
Zucchini flowers are a herald of summer up there with bushfires and mosquito bites, but they strike a duff note, with a thick, soft batter and bland prawn filling dominated by leek. The Hervey Bay king prawn, bisected from head to tail - all the better to access its wobbly, gelatinous meat - is acceptable compensation, but for my money you can't go past a classic crab spaghettini, with lemon, chilli and toasty breadcrumbs in perfect proportion.
The salted caramel creme is, deservedly, Trocadero's sole survivor, but there is plenty of new action to be had at the sweet end, including a shortcrust lemon curd tart with torched meringue and passionfruit ice-cream that has all the voluptuousness of Gina Lollobrigida.
Top points for player comfort, too. The waiters are sensitive to the time-pressed nature of the dinner-and-a-show crowd, but can also work a soothing chattiness for people for whom dinner is the show.
It's a valuable skill, all the more so because Fatto is ultimately in the eye of the beholder. A bar, a cafe or a restaurant - I particularly like it when singing in the key of seafood. Seafood and sun go together like seagulls and chips, no matter if you're contemplating Bondi or the opaque waters of the Yarra. I'm sure Mr Durack would be in agreement-ish.
The best bit Sunset on the terrace
The worst bit Paper napkins
Go-to dish Crab spaghettini, $26
- 03 8698 8800
- Cuisine - Italian
- Prices - Typical entree, $13; main, $28; dessert, $14
- Features - Outdoor seating, Views, Licensed, Gluten-free options, Accepts bookings, Wheelchair access
- Chef(s) - Anthony Musarra and James Kummrow
- Owners - Frank and Sharon van Haandel
- Cards accepted - AMEX, Diners Club, EFTPOS, Mastercard, Visa
- Opening Hours - Daily, 11am-late
- Author - Larissa Dubecki