Good things may come in small packages, but finer things come served as tasty morsels on wooden boards. The Italians call this cicchetti, and it's one of the defining features of Lygon Street's hippest bar, Heartattack and Vine.
Inspired in name by a Tom Waits' song, Heartattack and Vine follows a tradition from the team who brought us A Minor Place and Wide Open Road. And it seems that their ode to tradition has struck a chord with the Carlton crowd too, who are as mixed as the food selection.
Owners Emily Bitto and Nathen Doyle admit it wasn't an easy market to break into, where Lygon Street has a long-standing tradition of family owned stores and cafes. From couples enjoying an independent film across the way to youth looking for a hideout in between studies, the regulars are a combination of cultured sorts. They've even managed to lure in the odd member from the Italian assemblage.
Perhaps it's a reflection of the décor, which sees old-world charm polished with a retro edge. Inside, lamps hang above the bar from recycled window awnings. On the street, a relaxed setting of four wooden benches and stools await, all sourced and saved from Bavarian beer halls in Germany. This fusion of furniture, along with Doyle and Bitto's passion for quality produce, is perhaps the proof that they've really nailed this pudding. And 'pudding' we did try.
Guarded by glass, the rotating cicchetti covers anything from a bowl of humble olives to crostini breads topped with slow braised ox tongue, smoked cod or roast peach and whipped goats cheese ($3.50 each or $10 for three). Match your cicchetti to the Ape on the Loose Greco ($13 per glass) which has a lush, sugary start with an almost salty, super dry finish. Italian and Spanish vermouths ($7.50 - $10) are available and served classically on the rocks with skewered olives and oranges to boot.
If you're milling about during the day, the porchetta sandwich ($15) is pretty hard to go past. Served with a side of sweet spicey sambal, it's prepared every morning (in a three-hour process, mind you) using the belly of the beast. Crunchy Italian slaw ($3) made of savoury cabbage and fresh mango is the perfect accompaniment.
It's the type of place where afternoons easily bleed into evenings and you could quite happily be mistaken for thinking you're living the European life as you watch the foot traffic drift on by. So if you haven't already, head to Heartattack and Vine, and treat yourself to some cicchetti, a glass of grapes and stay there 'til the money runs out. After all, it's what Tom Waits would do, right?
Images: Brook James.