83 High Street Northcote, Victoria 3070
|Opening hours||Tue-Sun 5pm-late|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
|Chef||David Murphy and Marco Vicentin|
|Payments||eftpos, Visa, Mastercard|
|Phone||03 9486 3255|
When Sam Marazita emigrated from Calabria in the 1940s he bought a building in Northcote and opened a fruit shop. The store closed after 15 years because Sam got pretty busy making wine. (Indeed, his grandson Sergio Carlei is now winemaker at well-regarded Carlei Estate.)
Last January, a circle closed when Marazita's great-grandson David Carlei opened a restaurant in the old fruit shop premises and named it in honour of his "nonno Sam". That heart-warming continuity must account for a good chunk of the happy vibes here.
Bar Nonno's front room is welcoming but petite overlooked by a wall of biodynamic wines and a picture of nonno himself. It's a lovely surprise to be led through a narrow doorway into a large dining room that feels like a secret cave. This parlour is so atmospheric you'll likely end up with memories of jaunting around Tuscany, even if you've never been.
Italy is the inspiration but the menu is broader. Spuntini include perfect drinking snacks such as crisp arancini and Spanish-style chicken wings with smoky romesco sauce.
Cauliflower salads are ubiquitous but this version is a beauty; cauliflower and celery are chiacked towards tenderness, then tossed with toasted walnuts. It's nice to see celery – usually a base flavour – given a starring role.
Head chef David Murphy (ex-GGs and PM24) displays French technique in the main courses. There's no quibbling with the expert cooking of a snapper fillet but I found the addition of onion foam and fancy stripes of zucchini puree incongruous in this rustic setting.
Pizzaiolo Marco Vicentin brings it back down to earth with excellent thin-crust pizze and the gnocchi, made to Veronese specifications, has many staunch disciples. Desserts are good, especially the jammy apple tart.
Bar Nonno is a charmer that feels steadier than its years; surely that's because dear departed nonno Sam is embracing it too.
Rating: Three and a half stars (out of five)