You know the cacio e pepe trend has gone mainstream when restaurateurs start naming their venues after it.
Trunk on Exhibition Street is the latest restaurant to succumb to Melbourne's Italian epidemic. The restaurant closed in mid-August after 12 years of operation. After a three-week renovation, owner Nick Kutcher has reopened it as Pepe's Italian and Liquor.
Nick Cox from Projects of Imagination was behind the redesign, which now features a long zinc-topped bar, a red-and-white-chequered floor and deep burgundy banquettes. Everything was built off-site, which allowed for the quick turnaround time.
Where Trunk was loosely Mediterranean, Pepe's Italian and Liquor is firmly Italian-American – a style that Kutcher, who used to live in New York, has always wanted to do. It's a pizza- and pasta-heavy menu, featuring bucatini (spaghetti tubes), all'amatriciana and rigatoni in a spicy vodka and tomato sauce, but also clams casino, Waldorf salad, veal parmigiana and pork ribs as mains. There is no cacio e pepe, despite the name.
For drinks, there's a whole page dedicated to martinis, and an extensive, well-priced Italian wine list (most are about $60 a bottle) organised by palate weight. For big-spenders, there's also a reserve wine list with bottle prices that stretch into the thousands.
Trunk Diner, the smaller eatery in the venue's front courtyard, will continue as is, serving American food such as pancakes for breakfast and nachos and burgers for dinner. The rest of the courtyard is set to get a Pepe's-style makeover in time for summer.
Open Mon-Fri noon-late; Sat, Sun 4pm-midnight.
275 Exhibition Street, Melbourne, trunktown.com.au/restaurant-bar.