Di Stasio Pizzeria review

Rinaldo Di Stasio uses art pieces to provoke rather than decorate.
Rinaldo Di Stasio uses art pieces to provoke rather than decorate. Photo: Justin McManus

224 Faraday St Carlton, VIC 3053

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Opening hours Wed-Thu 5pm-late; Fri-Sun noon-late
Prices Moderate (mains $20-$40)
Phone 03 9070 1110

Does it feel like you've been waiting your whole life for someone to build a proper shrine to pizza? To do the hallowed carb the honour of bathing it in glowing light, of juxtaposing it with thought-provoking art in a room that could easily be a gallery and pairing it with the wine of kings?

Have you waited just a bit too long for someone to whisper "lobster pizza" in your ear? Then I have good news. Di Stasio Pizzeria is here to correct the shortcomings of any pizza experience that may have befallen you.

But is it a pizzeria, actually? In many ways, yes. In just as many ways, no. They serve Napoli-style pies, obviously. Big wheels, with blousy crusts that have been properly scorched, framing a sensible number and arrangement of toppings.

Bird of the day, stuffed, trussed and bandaged in pancetta.
Bird of the day, stuffed, trussed and bandaged in pancetta. Photo: Luis Enrique Ascui

Of five red bases, two are dedicated to salami (fennel and regular), and there's a classic capricciosa or beef carpaccio. Blanco options include a mushroom, and a four-cheese extravaganza featuring great lobes of a tangy fior di latte they make in house every day (more on this later). Classic, precise, good.

I think it's still better to think of this venue not as a pizzeria, but as Pizza, by Di Stasio.

Rinaldo Di Stasio and Mallory Wall's empire, including the original restaurant and bar in St Kilda, Citta and now Carlton, is a designer label for dining.

Wood-fired squid pan grattato.
Wood-fired squid pan grattato. Photo: Justin McManus

The quality and craftsmanship is on full show. The waiters' signature white tunics are of loosely rumpled linen here versus the crisp whites of the city. The thick galleria walls of the restaurant's three distinct areas are cast in gentle neon so that even your worst wine-fuelled photos turn into atmospheric still lifes. The art, typically, lands a gut punch.

From the Bill Henson portraits at the St Kilda restaurant to Shaun Gladwell's beautiful video artworks at Citta, Di Stasio doesn't use pieces to decorate but to provoke. On entry, a bronze cast of Di Stasio's hands jutt out of the wall, immortalised in the sign of the bull – equal parts a rock star welcome and a warning. A trio of powerful works by Kamilaroi artist Reko Rennie, titled Genesis, goes straight for the jugular of unceded sovereignty.

You get the picture. The pizza is good. You can even get one handsomely dressed with thick garlicky lobes of lobster for $48 (a relatively good deal when the margherita is $33). But it's also just fuel for the engine of another glorious, glittering Di Stasio production that has the tendency to make you want to open up to full throttle.

Napoli-style pizzas feature blousy crusts framing an arrangement of toppings.
Napoli-style pizzas feature blousy crusts framing an arrangement of toppings.  Photo: Justin McManus

There's nothing standing in your way. The martinis come correct, bowls of crushed ice on the side as a bed for your olives. The wine library is as good a read as it is at any of the venues. What's your flavour? Easy-going Monte Calvarina soave? A Brezza barolo? Both? It's the likely outcome should you find yourself ensconced in the perfect, ludicrous pebbled courtyard doused in sun, surrounded by statues.

Long nights and danger is written all over the joint, from the stamped paper table dressings built for spillage to the tick-a-box menu ample enough that you never even need to see a pizza.

Instead, you could summon garlicky focaccia and mount it with ripples of plush prosciutto and that house-made fior di latte, all squeak and gentle tang. Add a brace of silky anchovies, which arrive luxuriously draped across the back of a lemon. You might try the "tasty fish" and pickles, a light, lovely tangle of cool, oily vegetables with firm white fish captured in the net. Cool it all off with a bracing salad of cucumbers, dill and a dash of colatura, a salty flavour bomb made from anchovies.

Crostata all'albicocca (classic apricot lattice tart).
Crostata all'albicocca (classic apricot lattice tart). Photo: Justin McManus

Maybe, you'd just like the roasted bird of the day, stuffed, trussed and bandaged in pancetta? A thick pork chop from that fiery grill? Perhaps you'd prefer pasta? The legendary lasagne lives here – a spare layering of tomato, mozzarella and pasta sheets.

Stale bread is transformed into dough for ravioli, which are slicked in a rich whey dressing, sage and pecorino to which you can add infinitely from a bowl furnished with a tiny golden shovel.

The devil is in those tiny details. And so while yes, pizze are $33-$38, a big step up from the old-school legends of Lygon Street, you won't find anything like this package. Is that worth it for you? My wallet is always thinner when I leave a Di Stasio venue, but it's most often the result of failing to pump the brakes, or not even trying to.

A tower of fior di latte soft serve, drizzled with good oil and tiny crystals of salt.
A tower of fior di latte soft serve, drizzled with good oil and tiny crystals of salt.  Photo: Luis Enrique Ascui

Maybe it's the wine. Maybe it's the light. Maybe it's Wall's service pushing you on. Try to resist the tower of fior di latte soft serve, drizzled with good oil and tiny crystals of salt. You will fail. You'll accept it. You will be back.

The low-down

Di Stasio Pizzeria

Address 224 Faraday Street, Carlton, 03 9070 1110, distasio.com.au

Open Wed-Thu 5pm-late; Fri-Sun noon-late

Cost Entrees $19-$28; pizzas $33-$48; mains $41-43

Drinks An Old and New World wine list you would happily drown in.

Pro tip Schedule a visit to that courtyard for summer.