Few of us have been to Venice. But now Hawthorn has its own Venetian bar and eatery, Vaporetto. And it's basically the same thing.
Chef Greg Feck and his business partners Kim Coronica, Stephanie Edgerton and David Wickwar love Venice and they've done an excellent job in recreating its vibrant and enchanting atmosphere on Glenferrie Road. Leave Melbourne behind as you step through an old tobacco store shopfront from Venice, and take in the dark timber, marble, aged brass and hand-blown Murano chandeliers.
It's $10 spritz o'clock every day from 5-6pm, but, regardless of the time of day, you might be tempted by David's cocktail creations that pay homage to the Venice and its history. When in Rome — or, at least, when in Venice.
Greg has tried to count how many times he has been to the city of bridges and he says it could easily be up to 12, 14 or 15 times. He particularly loves the simplicity of Venetian cooking. It tends to be a fairly light cuisine because they use a lot of seafood from the lagoon and, true to form, Vaporetto's menu is predominantly seafood-focused with a couple of cuts of meat.
Greg, like the Venetian chefs he is inspired by, also uses a lot of polenta and radicchio, as well as quite traditional pasta shapes. For example, he's a big fan of the bigoli: extruded long, tube-like pieces of pasta.
There is much that appeals from the 'little something to start' entree section, but the special swordfish crudo is a standout. Ceviches can often be dominated by citrus, but here the delicate flavour of the swordfish shines and is complemented by the other ingredients: a veritable garden rainbow of aniseed spiced avocado cream with mandarin and grapefruit segments, fresh baby radish, native blood finger lime pearls, elk leaves and fresh dill. A beautiful way to start the meal and pique the taste buds.
The next section of the menu is labeled, 'something comforting'. Never a truer word has been uttered. The ravioli of pumpkin, nutmeg and Montasio cheese, browned butter, pepitas and crispy sage ($25) is like coming home to a cosy room warmed by a log burner, candlelight and an enveloping hug. I can't even begin to describe how good this dish is; every mouthful is so incredibly creamy, savoury and rich that you won't believe you've spent your whole life without this flavour. Pair it with the insalata di treviso — its bitter leaves and chamomile raspberry vinegar cut through the richness of the ravioli perfectly.
Dessert continues with the mouthfuls of wow factor. A nice take on a traditional dessert, Vaporetto's tiramisu has espresso, mascarpone, honeycomb, mulberries, cocoa, bee pollen and malted milk crumble ($14). Sounds like a lot of elements (and it is), but it works. If you're looking for a glass of vino, the wine list features a good variety of local and Italian wines and the waitstaff are quick to recommend good pairings.
It's an open kitchen so there's no hiding. At peak times there are five chefs all performing a beautifully choreographed dance around the kitchen. There's intensity and a lot of hard work going on — but there's also laughter and appreciation for one another's efforts. This is a team who has worked together for a long time. They know exactly what's going on in each section and it all comes together with ease.
Mary Shelley is said to have remarked that "there is something so different in Venice from any other place in the world that you leave at once all accustomed habits and everyday sights to enter an enchanted garden". The same can be said of Vaporetto. They've nailed it.
Images: Jo Rittey and Michael Gazzola.