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|
It is fair to question how many plates of cacio e pepe Melbourne could possibly need. Equally: wine bars with smarts that belie their size.
At the closing of last year's Good Food Guide, Rome's culinary gift of a dish that in its truest essence only involves four basic ingredients (pasta, pecorino, pepper and the starchy pasta water), had captured the entire nation in its cheesy web – Italian restaurant or not. Wine bars were also pandemically overtaking pubs as the mating grounds of the youth. Sick of them? Into them? Either way, I'd wager you'll find a place for Park Street Pasta and Wine in your spaghetti matrix.
To be fair, this South Melbourne osteria isn't a late-to-the-party-interloper – it's been winning hearts and waistlines for close to two years. It's me who's late. And if you too are a card-carrying fettuccine freak or consenting casarecce obsessive – someone whose ideal degustation involves cheese and charcuterie, fish dishes, a bracket of brassicas and dark meats, but you want all of it either stuffed into or tangled around some dough – this is a restaurant you need to dial into your GPS.
Like Tipo 00? Can't get in? Park Street Pasta and Wine has most of what you love about that CBD jewel for just a few extra clicks in your Uber.
In added perks, this restaurant fills one of those Victorian terraces on a wide-hipped South Melbourne street that allows for soothing kerbside eating. Inside, a slick little bar space stands ready to stir you a classic Negroni. Elsewhere it is a built-for-purpose room, but lovelier than many in the genre. A few bottles line dark wood panels and a nice thistly flower arrangement offsets the forest-green room. Bareback tables are close-set, which means everyone will hear your business, but at least you will never feel alone if a solo pasta-eating mission is your vibe.
And it could be. Take the complimentary salty focaccia that comes with whipped pork fat for dipping, add the daily special tagliatelle with brisket ragu (the slow-roasting then stripping of the flavoursome beef cut, with king mushrooms added, gives the dish serious gumption), and accept the correct suggestion of La Salceta's juicy-yet-earthy Ruschieto chianti from floor boss Jacky van der Velden and you have good times ahead.
Chef Gus Cadden, who's been manning the pans since last August, makes the eight daily pastas from different doughs according to type. Some are semolina-based, a more robust dough that can be forced through an extruder. Does that machinery seem unromantic? Not when it means you can get mafaldine, ribbons with ruffled edges whose every ridge catches that bit more of the salty, cheesy cacio e pepe for maximum impact. Alora.
Other pastas, like that rippling fresh tagliatelle are the result of organic Daylesford eggs and South Australian flour taking a turn through an old-school roller. This might become plump parcels filled with braised rabbit and veal and sluiced in sage butter, or wide belts of pappardelle for Cadden's slow-cooked bolognese.
The foundations are solid. And so are the accessories. Outrageously plump Spring Bay mussels are tossed through a bowl of casarecce (those short twisty tubes) with their own liquor, brightened with tomato and chilli. More of this juice (or fewer moisture-sucking pangrattato breadcrumbs), would make it even better.
What does make everything better is a sense of assurance. Alex Ghaddab, who co-owns the business with David Pedulla, has worked for Victoria's Italian king, Stefano de Pieri and also at MoVida Aqui. Backed by van der Velden, who lands another punch with the tension of the barely skinsy Pusole Bianco vermentino to counter the cacio (the wine list largely reps curious makers from all over the Boot) you're in good hands.
Beyond pastas (is there?), entrees and a couple of mains take things in a slightly more tricked up direction. Their burrata gets the very last tomatoes of summer and floral strawberry balsamic.
A gloriously sticky charred octopus tentacle curls across an umami slick of squid ink, salty bursts from sea succulents and cubed confit potatoes riding a fine line on crunch.
Their cauliflower dish could revive your interest in another hammered staple courtesy of caramelly onions playing off pinenut butter, fried saltbush and the kicker, muscatels plumped up in a little vinaigrette.
Sides are standard, but good: bright mixed leaves or lightly blackened broccolini luxuriating in macadamia puree. It's worth noting that a fat grilled bistecca on the bone is there for those who know to ask.
Dessert is modest: a rich chocolate pave as intense as ganache with a hint of orange and little toffee twigs, or big old sugar-dusted bombolone (doughnuts). My advice? Save that space and double back on another plate of spaghetti. Too much? There can never be too much.
Vegetarian Three entrees, three pastas, sides.
Drinks An Italian job from curious wines to Menabrea beers.
Cost $67 feed me menu, pastas $20-$31, entrees $15-$24.
Pro Tip: There's an off-menu bistecca. Also ask if any extra wines are on pour.
Go-to Dish: Mafaldine cacio e pepe ($20).