Il Bacaro

>168 Little Collins Street, Melbourne

Our friend Ida recommended this place to us, and Ida is serious about her Italian heritage and her Italian food.

Tucked away down Little Collins Street, it is easy to wander past this unprepossessing restaurant with noticing it. No outside tables (the pathway is far too narrow), no bright lights, just a serious-looking 1920s-style window frontage with discreet blinds hiding the joys within.

Inside, the place is all dark wood panelling, crisp white linen and flattering lighting. The high bar dominates the centre of the tiny space, but only a few bar stools hold some waiting diners. This is a place to sit side by side in corners, whispering, gossiping, perhaps having an affair…

It is also a place to impress. The waiters are polished professionals, almost always Italian or of Italian extraction, describing each dish on and off the menu with love and care and never needing to refer to notes. They will recommend a wine to go with your food, by the glass or bottle. They will hover discreetly waiting for your hand to reach for a half-empty water glass or bread basket, then swoop in with more. They can tell somehow if it is a special occasion or if there is simply somebody special at the table. Orlando’s 15-year-old god-daughter was fussed over charmingly when we took her there.

The food is good. Classic Italian standards vie with regional specials, often involving game. Last time I visited, my dining companion chose a pasta dish with a rabbit ragu which was sensational. My starter – a carpaccio of wagyu beef – was sublime. There is usually plenty of seafood too.

For a special occasion for two, or for a Tuesday evening gossip session with a small group of friends, this is one of my first choices in Melbourne.

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