Eating well when it comes to Italian in Melbourne is as easy as arrabbiata, bucatini, casareccia. If it's a straight-up bowl of pasta or an excellent pizza you seek there will always be the Waiters' Restaurant, Pellegrini's, and D.O.C. But for a special occasion, it's hard to go past one of Melbourne's Italian stallions. Here's The Age Good Food Guide 2017 team's list of 10 of the top-scoring Italians from the upcoming edition, some classical, and others that go beyond the boot with dishes that are sometimes more Italianese than straight Italian.
Cafe Di Stasio
Time has no meaning at this magical Italian restaurant, where hangovers are cured and earned at the same time. Ice-cold Averna to start will blow out the cobwebs, and pasta e fagioli – creamy borlotti beans and pasta nubs caught in a rich tomatoey, hammy broth – will have you feeling invincible.
31 Fitzroy Street, St Kilda, 03 9525 3999, distasio.com.au
Prosciutto, burrata and fresh fig with vincotto dressing at Cecconi's Flinders Lane. Photo: Graham Denholm
Cecconi's Flinders Lane
Basement stalwart Cecconi's has carved out a niche by never making a promise it can't keep. A welcoming smile, linen tablecloths and good stemware set a grown-up tone that's maintained throughout. And the food? Expect reliably good, modern Italian dishes such as caramelised scallops with a rich cauliflower cream.
61 Flinders Lane, Melbourne, 03 8663 0500, cecconis.com
As Italian affairs go, Centonove is enduring. Seasonality is its key ingredient – panna cotta with blood plums and blackberries is a summer treat, suckling pig comes on in late autumn, and thankfully spanner crab and caper spaghettini appears year-round – in a menu that journeys Italy's long leg.
109 Cotham Road, Kew, 03 9817 6468, centonove.com.au
Desserts are a standout at The Grand in Richmond. Photo: Supplied
In an era of minimalist fitouts and hard surfaces, it's grand indeed to sit at a double-clothed table in a big, plushly carpeted Victorian room. This corner-pub dining room is all about comfort and generosity, a theme that continues to dessert, when the kitchen slips an extra bombolone on to the plate to ensure there's one for everybody.
333 Burnley Street, Richmond, 03 9429 2530, grandrichmond.com.au
Fremantle octopus pizzaiola at Grossi Florentino Upstairs. Photo: Supplied
Grossi Florentino Upstairs
A warm hubbub envelopes diners in this intimate yet lavish mural-lined dining room. There's an air of big-hearted hospitality and old-school opulence in setting, service and food, such as john dory crusted in almonds and given a salty wink from the baccala cream.
Level 1, 80 Bourke Street, Melbourne, 03 9662 1811, grossiflorentino.com
Two decades on, this elegant spot continues to seduce both expense-account lunchers and romantic interluders to settle in at the linen-clothed tables and marble bar. Lightly fried calamari is a menu fixture, but other dishes embrace modernity, as in figs with gorgonzola foam and nubbly pinenut crumble.
168–170 Little Collins Street, Melbourne, 03 9654 6778, ilbacaro.com.au
Osteria La Passione
Owner-chef Carmine Costantini bustles from kitchen to dining room at this old-world osteria, checking on first-timers and joshing with regulars, as waves of dishes arrive on linen-covered tables. He has recently added a la carte options to his oft-changing Italian-with-twist set menus, which lean heavily on ingredients he's grown or raised himself.
486 Bridge Road, Richmond, 03 9428 2558, osterialapassione.com.au
Handmade agnolotti at Rosetta. Photo: Supplied
This is la dolce vita with crisp linen. The mood is glamorous, with high ceilings, theatrical chandeliers, upholstered banquettes. Service is the great strength. The menu is pan-Italian, sometimes predictable, sometimes surprising, but always based on excellent ingredients.
Crown Complex, 8 Whiteman Street, Southbank, 03 8648 1999, rockpool.com/rosettamelbourne
By day, city suits bound up the stairs for the well-priced three-course express lunch at Sarti. Photo: Supplied
There's an energetic, confident vibe to this New York-style bistro. Fast-walking waitstaff squeeze past the long central bar to top up water, offer a taste of wine or perhaps suggest a bespoke degustation menu. Menu stalwarts, such as blue swimmer crab spaghetti and tiramisu, cleverly balance crowd-pleasing tradition with creative twists.
6 Russell Place, Melbourne, 03 9639 7822, sartirestaurant.com.au
A digital print of the Piedmontese hilltop village Treiso covers the back wall of the split-level dining room, and the Piedmontese-style agnolotti del plin (plump pasta parcels filled with roasted rabbit, pork and veal in a buttery sage sauce) are superb. But the seasonal menu doesn't confine itself to any single region.
191 Nicholson Street, Carlton, 03 9347 8252, scopri.com.au
The Age Good Food Guide 2017 is on sale in newsagents and bookstores, with all book purchases receiving free access to the new Good Food app.