Melbourne's Cucina Povera Vino Vero is an Italian restaurant like no other

Restaurant manager Steve Kirkpatrick setting up at Cucina Povera Vino Vero.
Restaurant manager Steve Kirkpatrick setting up at Cucina Povera Vino Vero. Photo: Simon Schluter

Cucina Povera Vino Vero, the CBD venue by Maurice Terzini and Joseph Vargetto, officially opens as a restaurant on Wednesday, with waiters in white jackets and bow ties and a Brutalist-inspired room contrasting with simple, peasant-style Italian food.

After running an introductory bar menu last week, Cucina Povera is ready to seat guests at clothed tables and serve dishes such as pasta with lentils and fried garfish with boiled potatoes and sorrel.

The highly personal project from Terzini and Vargetto melds several influences, including anti-consumerism and Italian migrant culture, specifically the garage kitchens that anchored Italian social life in mid-20th-century Australia.

"It's an opportunity to tell that story," says Vargetto. "Not just about the Italian immigrant, but all immigrants that have come to this beautiful land and enriched it."

Vargetto's Little Collins Street restaurant Massi has been stripped back by designers Latitude, leaving a minimalist space dominated by concrete-look walls and long bottle-green drapes.

"It's a bit of a wake-up call for myself that you don't need to spend excessive amounts of money to create something quite beautiful," says Terzini.

Black furniture is offset by touches of green marble and red, and artwork first seen at Melbourne Wine Room, the influential St Kilda venue Terzini opened in 1996.

As at his first venture, Caffe e Cucina in the 1980s, Terzini is elevating service, something he takes great pride in.

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"It's that juxtaposition of something really simple [on the plate], but also giving the best service we can," he says.

At Cucina Povera, just eight wines are available by the glass, from producers who favour biodynamic and low-intervention methods. Glassware is modest, unless you order the Negroni Sbagliato, which is served in a fishbowl-shaped glass, a nod to the drink's creator, Milan's Bar Basso. Other cocktails by Joe Jones (ex Romeo Lane) are what he describes as "analogue bartending".

The menu is a time capsule of an older Italy, says Vargetto, who inherited his mother's recipes. "A lot of the people that are in Italy, they don't even know about [these] any longer."

Stripped-back plates such as barbecued mozzarella in lemon leaf join braised pork jowl with parsnip and prune, or ricotta gnocchi with pureed fava beans and foraged mushrooms.

"Half-time soccer oranges", a dessert of caramelised orange with chantilly cream, is one of several dishes with a highly personal story attached.

"That's the beauty of Cucina Povera: it's interaction," says Vargetto (pictured, left).

"We're bringing everyone closer," says Terzini (pictured, right). "We want people to talk more, to interact, to flirt."

Open lunch Thu-Fri, dinner Wed-Sat from June 29

445 Little Collins Street, Melbourne, 03 9670 5347, cucinapovera.flywheelsites.com