Riso Diner review

Sitting alongside the weekend Rose Street Artist's Market, Riso Diner is a masterclass in meat-free eating.
Sitting alongside the weekend Rose Street Artist's Market, Riso Diner is a masterclass in meat-free eating. Photo: Luis Enrique Ascui

60 Rose St Fitzroy, VIC 3065

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Opening hours Friday 6pm-late; Saturday-Sunday 10am-4pm, 6pm-late
Features Vegetarian friendly, Accepts bookings, Degustation, Events, Family friendly, Gluten-free options, Green-eco focus, Groups, Long lunch, Outdoor seating, Romance-first date, Wheelchair access
Prices Moderate (mains $20-$40)
Phone 0450 700 394

I have to tell you about the broth. It's an $8 ticket to bliss. It also tells the story of Riso, sip by delicious sip.

The broth is emblematic: it speaks of chef and owner Paolo Arlotta's reverence for vegetables, his commitment to low waste, his technical facility and the creativity of his tiny kitchen team at Riso Diner.

Riso sits alongside the weekend Rose Street Artist's Market. It's a resonant room with an oft-tweaked blackboard menu on a gorgeous blue wall, and indoor plants that add to the welcoming, homely feeling.

Caramelised whey whipped with mascarpone and served with quince and honeycomb.
Caramelised whey whipped with mascarpone and served with quince and honeycomb. Photo: Luis Enrique Ascui

The menu is all vegetarian and more or less Italian. If there's anyone in your orbit harbouring lingering notions that meat-free eating is unsatisfying or limited then those tired orthodoxies can be dismantled here.

So, the broth. Like a masterstock, it's an accretion of ingredients from a pot that never runs dry, the flavours building week by week so that it's a seasonal record as much as a soup.

The base is pumpkin, five or six different varieties heavily roasted, plus mushroom trimmings, fermented peaches and lemongrass, simmered and clarified, seasoned with rice vinegar.

Good-any-time sourdough, topped with stracciatella, pickled egg and chilli oil.
Good-any-time sourdough, topped with stracciatella, pickled egg and chilli oil.  Photo: Luis Enrique Ascui

This potion is served in a cup, very hot, without a spoon, so maybe you want to nibble some pickles or dip in some focaccia while it cools. Probably you'll want to hug the cup with your hands, inhaling earthy fragrance and communing with the simple brown shimmering darkness of this unassuming liquid. And then you'll taste it: multi-dimensional, supremely comforting, sparklingly clean, outlandishly reverberant.

Paolo Arlotta grew up in Piemonte, near the rice fields of Crescentino. He cooks short-grained vialone nano rice into a nutty risotto with pureed cime di rapa (a leafy green) and tiny cubes of confit potato.

Visitors to the weekend market often want something brunchy. The closest they'll get is the good-any-time sourdough, topped with stracciatella, pickled egg and crispy chilli oil. 

Green rocket ravioli is an exposition of balance.
Green rocket ravioli is an exposition of balance. Photo: Luis Enrique Ascui

The pasta is excellent, not just because Arlotta worked at Tipo 00. The ravioli is an exposition of balance: rocket leaves colour the dough green and bring bitter bite; the parcels are filled with peppery cacio e pepe, and the dish is dressed with koji butter that brings soft, round flavour notes, the culmination in this symphony of the bittersweet.

A scoopable cheesecake sees whey reduced to caramel then whipped with mascarpone. It's plated with poached quince, honeycomb and black chestnut powder, again demonstrating various angles of sweetness and tang.

Arlotta has worked with three-Michelin-star Guy Savoy in Singapore, he's done short stints at Quay in Sydney and Noma in Copenhagen, as well as periods at Vue de monde and Amaru.

But his time at the Kinfolk social enterprise cafe was just as important as his fine dining experiences, enabling him to consider work-life balance and the possibilities of vegetarian cuisine.

It's a pleasure to see Arlotta forging something special here, aided by a lovely wine list and front-of-house steadying hand Yossi Klein. Riso is as rounded, sparkling and layered as the broth that tells its story.

https://www.risodiner.com/