>maldini hobart

>47 Salamanca Place Hobart

Dinner with colleagues in Hobart led us on a quiet Tuesday night to Salamanca Place. Usually buzzing at the weekend, most places were still doing a fairly brisk business in the early evening, but we chose the one with most diners in.

With a good view of the open kitchen and some friendly wait staff, we settled in for the evening. The frequently opening main door proved a little chilly at times but there were no other seating options. Plenty of wines by the glass was a help to the white wine drinkers, and Don and I chose a nice Rufus Stone shiraz to warm us up.

The bruschetta we ordered to share for starters were lovely – lots of flavour and fresh. I hardly ever order risotto in a restaurant but I couldn’t go past the chicken risotto: it was hearty, flavoursome and generous in size. I ate slowly and enjoyed every mouthful. Julie’s wallaby looked lovely and she attested to its tenderness.

With a bill of $210 in total, I am not sure it was great value despite the fact that the food was very good. The wine was $50 in total so that is $40 a head for four people. Nothing to complain about but given we only had two bruschetta to share for starters, it seems a little steep. Nonetheless, a pleasant dining experience overall.

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.

Sosta Cucina

>Errol Street, North Melbourne

This new North Melbourne place has become a serious regular haunt for me and my workmates. A friendly North Italian joint, they take their regional cooking very seriously here.

The menu is not encyclopaedic, but it is augmented by a slew of specials every night. I have two favourite dishes which I struggle to escape from ordering time and time again. The first is spaghetti with blue swimmer crab meat, olive oil, garlic, parsley, golden breadcrumbs and freshly grated bottarga. It never looks much on the plate, but the flavours are so rich I always struggle to finish it. The waiter tells me that the breadcrumbs (salty, garlicky goodness) are a south Italian way of adding flavour to a dish when money is tight and cheese is expensive.

The second dish I love is a fairly simple pappardelle dish with slow-cooked lamb ragu and pecorino. Perfect for a chilly winter’s night, it goes well with a nice big glass of chianti.

The wine list is pretty good – plenty of Italians by the glass as well as the bottle.

The owner told me the other night when we went in seeking a quiet table for two, that he couldn’t accommodate us as they were having one of their new regional feasts. Every month they will have a bookings-only evening celebrating the food of a particular region of Italy with a special menu. Sounds like a good way to fill a restaurant on a Wednesday night, but I guarantee those heading down to Sosta will add this great place to their list of favourites.


>66 Flinders Lane Melbourne

Ericka’s birthday took us to Tazio, a quirky new pizzeria. Split-level and windowless except for the large front door, it shouldn’t work but it does.

And the pizza is exceptional. Only the very best ingredients are used. They come in one size. And I could have eaten three.

My particular favourite (we chose and shared about four) was the Treviso – crushed oven-dried tomatoes, fetta cheese, caramelised onion and basil. The flavours were over-the-top strong and fused wonderfully.

Nonna’s pork and veal meatballs were a small dish, but sensational. The spice semolina calamari was perfectly cooked and served with a rocket and endive salad. And even the eggplant lasagne (not my favourite vegetable) was edible (others thought more highly of this).

With plenty of wines – local and Italian – by the glass, it is sure to become one of my favourites.

Sorrento Restaurant

>158 James Street, Northbridge, Perth WA

A week of work in Perth had me checking out the Northbridge area, recommended to me as the place to eat in central Perth. A craving for Thai food going unsatisfied, I wandered into Sorrento, a pleasant-looking and busy Italian place on the main drag. Decorated in the style of a stereotypical Italian trattoria (all burnished walls and wrought iron), it was a cosy place to dine alone.

The menu was Lygon Street typical: pizzas and standard pasta dishes, with a decent selection of primi piatti in the usual style. I ordered a glass of local cabernet sauvignon, a bowl of minestrone and a lasagne.

The minestrone was delicious, although without the cannelini beans and pasta absent it would have been more correctly described as a vegetable soup. Nonetheless I enjoyed it with plenty of parmesan cheese (freshly shaved for me) and a basket of strangely light bread.

Moments after my soup was served a second waiter arrived at my table with my lasagne. I’d hardly tasted my soup, and he didn’t seem to want to take it away, but I convinced him in the end. My original waitress wandered past a few minutes later to see how I was, and I mentioned my lasagne. I asked her to make sure that it wasn’t left in the kitchen sitting around, then reheated and tarted up again for me later: she assured me this would not happen.

After a decent interval, sure enough out came the lasagne again. It was the original one, left sitting the kitchen since its original appearance, then reheated and tarted up again. I could see the original parmesan shavings which had been melted and topped up with fresh; I could see the edges of the lasagne slightly curled up at the edges. Disappointing.

I couldn’t be bothered complaining again. It was tasty enough anyway, and piping hot, so I got on with my dinner and called for the bill. Just as I thought the disappointment could not get any worse, the lightweight bread which had been served with my soup was listed on the bill as a $4 item. How very 1980s, charging for bread. What decent Italian place does that anymore?