219-221 Riversdale Rd Hawthorn, VIC 3122
|Opening hours||Tue-Fri noon-11pm, Sat 9am-11pm, Sun 9am-9am|
|Features||Licensed, Accepts bookings|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
|Phone||03 9819 4026|
There's so much pleasure in small, when it comes to hospitality. There's the delight of a small restaurant – the cosy intimacy of apprehending each of the other diners, that dinner party sense of togetherness. There's the relaxed feeling promoted by a small menu, where every dish is in reach and food FOMO evaporates. That's amplified when the dishes themselves are small: you can try more, and your meal feels like a happy wander rather than a stoic expedition. A small kitchen tends to underpin such a project, every ingredient, cooking method and dish chosen for the way it makes sense in a tight space.
Of course, you only need a small staff to coax a petite restaurant to life each day. These will be people who know the place inside out, are excited by the produce that tumbled through the door that morning, remember what the customers ate yesterday, and have a stake in turning four walls and a floor into a buzzing arena of joy.
Mister Sandrino is small. It's also lovely. Since this 30-seat restaurant opened in July 2019, it's been embraced by Hawthornians who are using it as a "we'll be back on Thursday" type of local. Those same good folk will probably experience a mixture of pride, delight and alarm that their new neighbourhood treasure has been exposed. I'm sorry. But what can I do when being there made me feel so good?
I can definitely blame the food, European wine bar stuff, in love with Italy, sweet on Spain and fond of France. It's simple and playful, clever and poised but eminently approachable.
Whipped cod roe is dressed with finger lime and salmon roe, a jaunty blast of salt and acid. Sobrassada, a softer version of chorizo, is grilled hard and drizzled with honey for piling on crusty bread. Salmon is cured in gin, juniper and dill then furled with ruby grapefruit, pickled fennel and avocado puree. It's a poised plate of bright and rich, with black olive salt adding salty perspective and crunch.
There's a steak, maybe some duck if you want to go big, but it's easy to make a meal from snacks. There's cheese of course, and sweets too: thick, tart lemon curd lolls in a crisp pastry shell, dressed up with blackberry gel and broken meringue.
We can blame the wine, too. There are a dozen by the glass, wine with a story from Australia and over yonder, but the real fun is the wine wall. Bottles are racked like books: browse, get advice and choose a bottle for a $20 mark-up. You can also buy wine to take home, a great option for those whose commute ends at the tram stop outside.
The real culprits when it comes to Mister Sandrino's feel-good bearing are its owners, sommelier Pia Tatjana-Tukiainen and chef Daniel Schelbert. They worked together in Richmond at Saint Urban, which Schelbert co-owned, but their combined resume is a dance through our dining history: the Melbourne Wine Room in its heyday, Florentino, Bortolottos, Punch Lane.
The couple's vast experience and enduring warmth, their long affair with hospitality, and their joy in sharing good food and wine have all been expressed in the jewel box that is Mister Sandrino.
They understand big and that's why they've gone small: the chaos inherent in a restaurant is channelled at Mister Sandrino, creating magic with every delicious sip and bite.
Rating: Four stars (out of five)