24-30 Taryn Dr Epping, VIC 3076
|Opening hours||Mon-Fri 6am-3pm, Sat 8am-3pm, Fri-Sat 6pm-late|
|Features||Licensed, Breakfast-brunch, Outdoor seating|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
|Payments||eftpos, Visa, Mastercard|
|Phone||03 8401 5831|
It's easy to work out why chef Michelle Di Pietro's six-month trip to Abruzzo turned into a six-year cooking odyssey. You just need to come to her northern suburbs cafe-restaurant and order a slew of delicious arrosticini.
These bite-sized meat skewers are typical of the central Italian province and are just one of the robust regional delights that kept Di Pietro entranced for so long in the land of her forebears.
Arrosticini are cooked over charcoal in the open kitchen and served in terracotta pitchers. There are lots of varieties but lamb is typical, cubed quite small, tightly packed, smoky from the grill, salted just so, and arrestingly juicy from the fat melting through the meat.
They're a highlight of this very personal, extremely enjoyable restaurant, founded in 2018.
Abruzzo Lab is in a commercial zone, near Melbourne's wholesale produce market. Fruiterers come early for espresso and barbecued mortadella, tradies pop in for piadina, parents with prams sit on the huge deck to attack pallotte cace e ove, delicious pecorino balls, fried so they're puffy, then braised in rich sugo.
Everyone comes for arrosticini but there's so much more. Lu porch is a crisp pastry pillow stuffed with juniper-salted porchetta and provolone. Break this mini morsel open to reveal sweet meat and gleaming fat. It's brilliant.
There's also grilled cos lettuce topped with a melting mass of pecorino: it's the cheesiest, most excellent salad you'll encounter.
Other typical Abruzzese dishes are the timballo, a lasagne made with crepes, and "guitar pasta" or spaghetti cut on the "chittara", a strung frame.
Tradition is the lifeblood but Di Pietro also takes joy in refashioning. Her pizze dolce is an Epping version of an Abruzzese celebration cake, built on the plate with sponge, Alchermes syrup, dark chocolate custard and toasted almonds. It's as spirited and heartfelt as the restaurant itself.
"I couldn't stay in Abruzzo forever," explains Di Pietro. "So I decided to bring it here."