Reinvented: Classic Italian with modest, clever twists.
Reinvented: Classic Italian with modest, clever twists. Photo: Eddie Jim

6 Russell Pl Melbourne, VIC 3000

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Opening hours Mon-Fri 12:00 – 3:00 PM 6:00 PM – 12:00 AM, Sat 6:00 PM – 12:00 AM, Sun Closed
Features Accepts bookings, Bar, Breakfast-brunch, Events, Gluten-free options, Licensed, Long lunch, Lunch specials, Outdoor seating, Pre-post-theatre, Romance-first date
Prices Expensive (mains over $40)
Chef Paolo Masciopinto
Seats 85
Payments Diner's Club, eftpos, AMEX, Cash, Visa, Mastercard
Phone (03) 9639 7822

Last year, Sarti floundered after the departure of chef Riccardo Momesso. But owner Joe Mammone knows a few things about reinvention and his laneway restaurant, open since 2005, is re-energised and pumping. It's a good option for canoodling at the bar, buzzy nights with mates and business meals (the $40 three-course lunch is a steal).

Chef Paolo Masciopinto moved from Piemonte six years ago and was sous chef at Sarti, before cooking at Stokehouse, North Melbourne's Sosta, then finding his way back here as head chef. He's refined Sarti's modern Italian thrust, creating a friendly catalogue of classics with modest, clever twists. If the hope is that diners will want to eat everything on the menu then the strategy is working.

The vitello tonnato is emblematic. The dish, an Italian standard of poached veal and tuna mayonnaise, is given a rethink with sous-vide medium-rare veal and aerated tuna dressing. Pickled onions emphasise the vinegary capers in the dressing, celery leaf sprigs reference the celery-heavy stock in which the veal is traditionally poached. It's smart but enjoying it is very easy.

Emblematic: Vitello tonnato.
Emblematic: Vitello tonnato. Photo: Eddie Jim

The pasta list is strong: squid-ink spaghettini is as striking as it is popular; duck tortelli is a sophisticated and autumnal pasta bake.

For main course, there are simple grills as well as cheffy composed plates. Lamb shank is braised, pulled from the bone and rolled back to shank shape to serve. It's pretty but all that fiddling makes it a bit dry. Rich pistachio-crusted segments of bone marrow almost redress the balance.

A ''hot and cold'' tiramisu redux is entirely successful, with zabaglione (frothy sweet wine custard) layered with cool coffee jelly, chocolate wafer and mascarpone.

Autumnal: Duck tortelli.
Autumnal: Duck tortelli. Photo: Eddie Jim

It's a pleasure to feel the renewed buzz here and enjoy honest, confident food.

Rating: Three and a half stars (out of five)