45 Spring St Melbourne, VIC 3004
|Opening hours||Daily 11.30am-late|
|Features||Bar, Accepts bookings, Groups, Business lunch, Licensed|
|Prices||Expensive (mains over $40)|
|Payments||eftpos, AMEX, Cash, Visa, Mastercard|
|Phone||03 9070 1177|
Is it too basic to call Di Stasio Citta a restaurant when eating and drinking counts for a fraction of why you'll come here? I mean, of course it's a restaurant at a molecular level – a spaghetti-serving, barolo-pouring, contemporary art-loving establishment, just like its 31-year-old St Kilda sibling. But there's something less tangible that makes both Di Stasios, old and new, not-quite-like-other-restaurants.
Old fans know and accept this. They are lined up to pay big money at Citta and are thrilled their negronis and fluffy schnitzel sandwiches are now in the CBD. They understand Di Stasio pasta is served with Sicilian bite and that this is a proud house where the customer is not automatically right. Manager Mallory Wall ensures great service, but not subservience.
But for a fresh audience, some things may jar the unsuspecting. Even getting in is a trick. There's no signage (intentionally). The sliding glass door requires you to push a discreet button on the left, and if you miss it you stare dumbly, waiting until you are rescued.
Given that restaurateur Rinaldo Di Stasio is as well known as an art-loving provocateur who proudly sweats every detail, this can feel like you're being tested. It's like an anti-passivity calling card that says if you want in, you have to play the Di Stasio game.
Art and engagement is intrinsic to Citta's experience. There is straight beauty: baby blue Murano chandelier, stretches of marble, terrazzo floors. Other aspects seem designed to make you twitch. Projected behind the bar and across the galleric walls are rolling videos by acclaimed Australian artists Reko Rennie and skater Shaun Gladwell.
Depending how your brain works, Rennie's reels of a Rolls-Royce burning through outback, and Gladwell's video of a hand balletically dancing towards (but never touching) a bust will either fade into normality over dinner or drive you insane. They're captivating. And relentless. Like beautiful cinematic aversion therapy.
There are the surgically crisp white linens and slashes of vivid red, from its high-backed chairs that throw you back to the '90s to the rosary-like beads round the necks of navy-smocked servers.
Red is not used to soothe. It represents passion, lust and social media notifications. All your dopamine triggers. And it's working. After 20 minutes at table, the dangerously deep list of vintage champagnes and wines from the house of Gaja (starting at $345 a bottle) start to whisper my name.
Speaking of money, Citta places a value on the experience and builds the cost into its menu, which, contrary to the sense-bending space, is all about steadfastly familiar Italian staples. Handmade pastas are $29 for an entree size, or $38 a main. Four (excellent) crisp and fragrant anchovies wrapped in sage and spindly batter are $18. Two large mouthfuls of roasted duck breast with an intensely sticky reduction of jus are lovely, and $23. It follows that you, diner, must love the whole experience to be happy with this charge.
But if you're going to go big, Di Stasio Citta feels, as few other Melbourne restaurants have in a while, like the right place to do it. It's alive, way beyond having new restaurant energy. You don't have to dress up, but you'll want to.
Don't come if you don't want to be seen. Nor if you're tight for time. Citta welcomes diners from 11.30am until late and for a single negroni and snacks but it is quite confident that it is the most important thing you could be doing and it isn't going to rush.
This lengthy menu mixes hits from St Kilda and the adjoining Bar Di Stasio. The crumbed veal, negronis and foil-wrapped schnitzel sandwich are all here, all correct.
Vitello tonnato has gumption. Thick rounds of tender veal fillet are enveloped in a silky, sparkling duvet of tuna mayonnaise and crunched up by fryer-frazzled capers.
Richly spiced mortadella ruffles stack two tiny milk buns and join the ranks of essential cocktail snacks for singles at that lengthy marble bar.
It's early days and missteps aren't impossible. Tiny chips tumbled with battered slips of calamari and whitebait hit the table too cool, all chew. A long wait for our pastas sees the fresh noodles arrive clumpy. Still, every flavour rings true in that extremely structured spaghettone sparkling with tomato and rich slips of pork jowl, guanciale. Certainly in the richer egg capellini alive with lemon, and distinctly chunky slips of crab.
A later lunch sees the execution righted and an incredibly subtle plate of cereally maltagliati rags tumbled with the tiniest squid curls, green onions and a bright citrusy liquor is the world spinning right on its axis.
Do yourself a favour, and eat here alone, at least once. A napkin marks your territory at the bar. The service is dialled up. Citta, like St Kilda, champions the art of service for one.
But you will want to dine en masse, too. You'll need financial backing for brunellos by the bottle and a properly warm, aggressively flavoured anchovy-garlic bagna cauda with its rainbow of fresh beets, crunchy witlof and baby carrots.
You'll want to split the perfect dark, fudgy chocolate tart while arguing about whether Gladwell is a genius or a punk. The crisp profiteroles loaded with vanilla cream and a boozy cherry come in a serve of two.
However you go, do. Decide if you love it or not – there are those who won't. I suspect Rinaldo Di Stasio would be slightly miffed if it was uniformly liked. What great things ever are?
Pro Tip: Eat at the bar alone, at least once.
Go-to Dish: Bagna cauda ($25/$32); crab capellini ($38/$47).