The interior features terracotta tiles and macrame room dividers.
The interior features terracotta tiles and macrame room dividers. Photo: Jesse Marlow

41 Little Collins Street Melbourne, Victoria 3000

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Opening hours Daily noon-3pm, 5pm-10pm
Features Accepts bookings, Bar, Business lunch, Family friendly, Gluten-free options, Groups, Licensed, Long lunch, Private dining, Pre-post-theatre, Romance-first date, Vegetarian friendly, Wheelchair access
Prices Moderate (mains $20-$40)
Chef Marco Lori, Stephen Phillips
Payments Diner's Club, eftpos, AMEX, Visa, Mastercard
Phone 03 9639 0333

Lupino is a wily "little wolf", a knowing, thronging Italian-but-oh-so-Melbourne restaurant. Clubby but welcoming, rigorous but high-spirited, it's run by Richard Lodge and Marco Lori, hospitality die-hards who came together at Moretti on Exhibition Street more than 20 years ago, decamped to open Becco, then five years ago joined forces with Made Establishment's George Sykiotis to create this smart trattoria.

At lunch, the room roars with regulars, businessmen ordering crumbed veal like it's a secret pathway to extra stock options. At dinner, it's more glam, a bit dressed up, and the early start makes it a pre-theatre winner.

The food is classic stuff, lightened and brightened a little so those who come three times a week don't get bogged down or bored. And some of those stalwart customers go way back – they've followed the team from the Moretti days, eating that tortellini and this veal for decades, scolding the guys soundly if they so much as think about taking the polpette off the menu. (Don't worry. Those $3.50 meatballs are bolted, soldered and glued on now.)

Tissue-thin beef carpaccio.
Tissue-thin beef carpaccio. Photo: Jesse Marlow

The menu swerves gently through the seasons but as well as the meatballs, you'll always find beef carpaccio, thin as tissue paper, fanned and scattered with capers, parmesan and plenty of good olive oil.

Chances are you'll stumble upon cauliflower fritters, with aioli for dipping and white anchovies to help you find your taste buds again.

Pasta is handmade with skill, care and soul. Pick of the current crop is the linguine carbonara laced with radicchio and spiced up with 'nduja, a chilli-slammed Calabrian salami. There's egg yolk and a little cream but the dish is pulled back from heaviness by a slosh of the brodo (broth) that is a kind of currency here, rounding out many dishes with a chicken-y clarity.

Linguine carbonara with 'nduja and radicchio.
Linguine carbonara with 'nduja and radicchio. Photo: Jesse Marlow

Lupino is serious about food, wine and hospitality but the surfeit of confidence means there's room to play. There's banter between the floor and open kitchen and the service, though schooled and efficient, isn't too formal.

The decor is simpatico: the foil-wrapped butter, terracotta tiles and macrame room dividers are nods and winks back to old-timey Italo-Aussie restaurants that Lupino has both transcended and honoured. Whatever, just eat.

Rating: Four stars (out of five)