44 Toorak Rd South Yarra, VIC 3141
|Opening hours||Mon-Tue 5.30pm-11pm; Wed-Sat noon-3pm, 5.30pm-11pm|
|Features||Licensed, Outdoor seating|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
|Payments||eftpos, Cash, Visa, Mastercard|
|Phone||03 9820 9774|
South Yarra. It's a very particular suburb, and to some, a shimmering mystery. Let's look, for example, at some dearly departed businesses. From chef Nick Stanton's Ramblr and its many joys including fries mounted with marron to Paul Wilson's brasserie on Commercial Road, whose food was also objectively very good, it can be hard to get a read on what the well-groomed people of South Yarra want.
But not for Joe Mammone, who is proving with his three-pronged Bar Carolina, Cantina Carolina and Tetto di Carolina package that he's the Ruinart-wielding pied piper of the 'hood.
There's a lot to untangle in this little empire, whose first portion opened on this corner of Toorak Road and Caroline Street back in early 2018. Let's start there. Bar Carolina is in fact a restaurant, cheffed by Matteo Tine. Cantina Carolina, which opened this month, is a cafe, albeit one that's serving spaghetti carbonara for breakfast at 7am.
And Tetto di Carolina, where we are today, is a bar, and yet, as with many blurry venues these days, it has so many restaurant-y qualities, from its tables set with linen napkins to a menu that starts with parfait cigars and ends with hanger steak and Portuguese cremes, you have to consider it more like a bonus level in a video game, giving you a secret new way to experience the restaurant proper if it's full or you've done it to death.
Tetto feels exactly right for this part of the world. Designed by Chris Connell, as with both downstairs spaces, the aesthetic is beautiful, but in a rigorously controlled way. It's brutalist in its unflawed complexion, a long, slim room whose brushed concrete walls join a domed (retractable) ceiling like a very swanky bomb shelter.
The lavish touches – a walnut bar, a flash of porcelain tiles like an expensive smile, and a feature wall in rusted red resembling steel girders arranged with military precision – are outrageously restrained. Flamboyantly minimal. And sometimes, completely invisible.
This is the darkest bar I've ever been in; the main source of light being subtle strips on the walls and a glowing fridge at the end. On the one hand, perhaps it is a symbol of true wealth not to show off the bar's assets. On the other hand, that fridge is stuffed with the kind of champagnes you buy not so much to drink as to be seen drinking, including that particularly pretentious range of Dom Perignon bottles whose labels glow neon in the dark.
You get the point, in any case, that you could commit some serious crimes against plastic if you wanted to. But you don't have to, either.
When you blow past the fantastically expensive fizz (a '96 Comte Audoin de Dampierre Grand Cru, or an '04 Bollinger La Grande Annee perhaps?) and thicker bottles list largely favouring the Old World, the Euro-Australian wine list by glass is more reliable than avant-garde. So Barossa shiraz, Mornington pinot and Friuli pinot grigio, the bottles sitting around $70.
And if there's a little scampi roe sprinkled around the place, the luminous blue bursts of crustacean essence crowning plump, raw scallops also spiked with Japanese citrus yuzu, Tine hasn't gone the whole beluga caviar hog. Instead, this is an equally crowd-pleasing menu, raising the bar food bar without diverting too much from its booze ballast ideals.
Quality salumi, Ortiz anchovies, and a solid range of hard and soft cheese are a given. Wearing the low-key party hat is a milk bun sandwiching thinly hammered chicken cotoletta with ribbons of fennel, cornichons and a creamy hit of mayo. It's a near home run save for slightly tough bread.
Octopus, meanwhile is tender yet tastily crisped, the suckers singed in the restaurant's big Josper oven with freshness from radishes and herby salsa verde. Also an oven star is the half Jurassic quail, juicy and luxuriously napped in sticky jus gras with a few explosive roasted grapes and a silken puree of jerusalem artichokes.
Perfectly crumbed lamb ribs haven't been rendered so you crack through to a full mouthful of fat. The duck liver parfait is a sweet cloud of cream, but their cannoli shells crunch to chewy shards almost like a domineering brandy snap.
Cocktail-wise, the pretty glassware sparkles and all the house signatures look the part, but both our Wall Street (bourbon, bitter Martini rubino, maple, and cherry) and a Carnegie Club (a shakeup of Dewars, banana caramel, lemon, eggwhite and a little peated whisky) are a little flabby, lacking the precision evident in the room.
Tetto is built with a particular vision of good times in mind. There's opulence at your fingertips, and Sunday jazz sessions for kicks, but it's not the sort of engine-revving place where you could lose yourself. That, it seems, is just the way that South Yarra likes it.
If the city is in a dining funk, you wouldn't know it here, where the banquettes are filled with tailored suits, and a wealth of heels.
Vegetarian Modest, two bar snacks, dessert and cheeses (for those who do).
Drinks Classic-leaning list with some vintage Champagnes and Italian heavy-hitters for wallet bashing.
Pro Tip: A retractable roof will make open-air drinking in summer a hot possibility.
Go-to Dish: Fremantle octopus, cime di rapa, salsa verde, radish, pangrattato, $24.