312 New St Brighton, VIC 3186
|Opening hours||Tue-Sat 5.30pm-10.30pm; Fri-Sun noon-3pm|
|Features||Licensed, Bar, Accepts bookings|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
|Payments||eftpos, Cash, Visa, Mastercard|
|Phone||03 9592 1592|
Gnocco fritto is already one of the world's greatest bar snacks. What's not to love? Golden pillows of hot fried dough, gently melting the sweet fats of whatever sweet salumi you care to drape across them.
Consider, then, finding a pillow that isn't hollow at all but concealing, trojan-style, a fat wedge of just-melted smoked scamorza. The great news is that situation exists. The better news, it does so in the hitherto under-serviced and absolutely ready-for-it bayside suburb of Brighton.
Aromi is a slick little 40-seater from chef Paolo Masciopinto and Salvatore Montella, who have cut ties with their former workplace, Bar Carolina, to bring aperitivo, rabbit gnocchi and botanically inclined G&Ts to the 'hood.
Why here? Like most Melbourne-Italian origin stories: family and opportunity. Asked by his father-in-law, the former tenant of the modest cucina, to tweak the menu, Masciopinto saw the potential, took the lease and set out to shoot the proverbial puffer-vested cashmere-draped fish in the Brighton barrel.
But Aromi has more than neighbourhood pull. Beyond those gnocco fritto (made with duck fat for crispness of dough, and created like fried ice-cream by freezing the cheese inside so it reaches optimum flow just as pillows reach puff), Masciopinto's menu has enough self-expression to lift it a head above being a local win.
Sweet crimson piquillo peppers, grown for the restaurant near Geelong, become chilled, silky, smoky jackets for goat's cheese, crisped up with fried caper leaves and smudges of black garlic. Plump sweet scallops are bedded in potato mash so luxurious, you can forgive the aberrant use of pungent truffle oil.
That only gets a quizzical shrug because Aromi is otherwise a deeply seasonal, supplier-led restaurant that really walks that talk. Herbs are such a motif, they are the freshly spanked garnish for every cocktail; they are tucked, lapel-style, into the corner of the menus and seeds are even embedded in the business cards for you to take home and plant.
Sides, if you get in soon, might include pine mushrooms plumped by butter and vegetable stock. And it's marjoram that makes the light yet intensely long-flavoured braised rabbit gnocchi pop, the little bursts acting like floral exclamation points.
No questioning that the pasta is house-made. You can still see the finger grooves in the gnocchi. Tomato spaghetto is made by working tomato paste into the (eggless) dough so it emerges slightly chewy and tangy, a nice launchpad for crab, chilli and parsley shrouded by a half-half blizzard of shaved macadamia and barely pan-licked garlic.
Further niceties: splitting dishes in the kitchen is a considerate touch for diners perhaps not in the regular swing of "sharing". The wine list, plucking gems from here and the boot has a few star brunellos, Barossa shiraz and nicely weighted Bannockburn chardonnay (strangely steep at $25 a glass, mind), and was compiled by Dinner by Heston Blumenthal sommelier Mattia Cianca.
Still, there's always the question of whether building it will in fact make diners come. Aromi's gambit is paying off. The light, airy room is foliage flush, its 40 seats full. Friday's aperitivi session, when a bonus bar menu of those gnocco fritto, oysters and crumbed-and-fried mozzarella sandwiches comes into play, is doing its job.
Melbourne's Italian scene might be so oversubscribed right now that you're seeing red sauce. But a pink, plush duck breast, dressed with tanned grapes, wild nettles de-stung in the deep fryer and leg meat, expertly confit and captured in crepine membrane, isn't something to dismiss because there's a lot of pasta in the pot.
You don't dismiss the glory of the silky, cream-filled monte bianco, piped into a snow-dusted beehive with chestnut paste, because you've had a good cannoli already this week. You could count yourself lucky the good stuff is spreading.
Vegetarian Plenty of options in snacks, pastas, sides and dietaries can be catered, with warning.
Drinks Botanically inspired cocktails, French champagne, Italian varietals from the boot and Oz.
Cost Pastas, risotto $28-$34; mains $39-$42; desserts $7-$15.
Pro Tip: Friday afternoon's aperitivo session brings a bar menu.
Go-to Dish: Gnocco fritto $8; tomato spaghetto with crab and macadamia, $34.