268 Park St South Melbourne, VIC 3205
|Opening hours||Tue-Thu and Sun noon-3.30pm, 6pm-9.30pm; Fri-Sat noon-3.30pm, 6pm-10.30pm|
|Features||Licensed, Accepts bookings, Vegetarian friendly|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
|Payments||eftpos, Visa, Mastercard|
|Phone||03 9042 8871|
Home-delivered restaurant food? Not a fan. I don't like the packaging, nor the lukewarm food miles and, most of all, I miss the experience of being in a restaurant. How could you not when there are places like Park Street Pasta?
That's what I was pondering as I stood by the fireplace at this neighbourhood delight, waiting for my table with a glass of pinot grigio in hand, chatting to the local gent who'd come in solo for pasta and a Dry July-busting vermouth. It feels so nice here: friendly, warm and welcoming. Netflix and chill can't compete with this harmonious hubbub.
The name doesn't lie: pasta and wine are the core offerings, sublimely easy to grasp and enjoy. The wine is mostly from Italy, served in stemless glasses that heighten the homely feel, and curated with an eye on happy drinking, not ruddy pontificating.
The pasta is all made here (except for the gluten-free versions) and the dough changes depending on the desired shape. Some include egg, others are just semolina and water; if you're vegan, you'll be fine. It's not that unusual for a Melbourne restaurant to make its own pasta but Park Street is rare in that it also makes extruded shapes that are pushed through a perforated plate (macaroni, for example), as distinct from sheet pasta that is rolled and cut (think fettuccine).
Bucatini (tubular spaghetti) loved up with cacio e pepe (cheese and pepper) is a classic Roman preparation that shows how simple can be the shortest road to perfect. Bolognese is served with pappardelle (ribbon pasta) and clings to it like a damsel in distress. Pizzoccheri, flat buckwheat noodles from Italy's alps, are served with leek, potatoes and cheese because carbing up is essential for mountain life. Agnolotti dal plin are a small filled pasta from Piedmonte (plin means "pinch" and that's how they're formed). Here they're stuffed with veal and rabbit and doused in one of life's great joys, sage butter.
It's not all pasta. A greeting offering of focaccia is served with herbed lard, an extraordinary animal butter that makes you feel glad for peasants and sorry for kings. Shared starters include classic dishes such as Venetian-style sardines with sultanas, pine nuts and capers, and fried pork meatballs laced with mortadella.
But there are also some wonderfully wild veg-focused dishes like roasted celeriac, sliced thick and layered up with bottarga (cured roe), brown butter crumb and a mountain of chervil. Brussels sprouts are briefly fried and crisped, tumbled with pancetta and scattered over parmesan custard. It reads like a carbonara that isn't. It's so, so good.
There's always an off-menu bistecca, a hulking Florentine-style T-bone steak that is seasoned savagely, cooked over charcoal and sliced thickly from the bone that you'll likely want to gnaw.
The easy flow of authenticity and playfulness makes sense when you learn that this isn't quite an Italian restaurant. It's owned by two guys who grew up in Mildura steeped in the Italian food culture of the region. Alex Ghaddab started in restaurants with Stefano di Pieri; his business partner David Pedulla comes from a Calabrese family. Their chef Nicola Akritidis is Swedish-Greek and was cooking Thai food at Longrain when he met Ghaddab. The front-of-house guru is Cale Marangon, who you may have seen at Middle Eastern MoMo and Spanish MoVida. They opened Park Street Pasta a year ago.
These four key Park Streeters connect over Italian flavours, for sure, but even more deeply around a notion of Italian hospitality that's made their restaurant a magnet for locals and wannabes from further afield. They come for pasta, yes, but also for a welcome and warmth that can't be ordered by app or delivered to your door in a brown paper bag.
Rating: Four stars (out of five)