Chef Domenico De Marco (Tipico, L'Altro Mondo, Rockpool Sydney) combines his love of cycling with his love for the food of his home country at his new Carlton North restaurant. Giro d'Italia takes you on a tour through Italy, much like the 100-year-old Italian bicycle race the venue is named after, with each dish on its menu representing a different region.
The dining room in the Edwardian terrace building on Rathdowne Street is a mashup of old and new. Dark timber panelling runs around the bottom of the room, while forest green leather covers a wall and green felt another. Framed black and white photos of De Marco's cycling heroes sit side by side two colourful photos of his own bike resting nonchalantly against a Melbourne street art-covered wall. Suspended wooden beams house solar-powered strip lighting.
Old meets new in more than the decor, too. The drinks list covers the Italian classics — bottles of pinot grigio, valipolicella and sanigiovese line the walls and there's draught Birra Moretti— but you'll also find four wines on tap (two whites, two reds) and a particularly refreshing watermelon martini.
After years of working at fine-dining restaurants, De Marco is taking a homely approach to his dishes, some of which reference his Nonna's cooking. Focaccia is baked twice a day, before lunch and then again before dinner, and comes out before the meal with a dollop of fresh tomato coulis for ripping and dipping.
The calamari fritti ($21), uses all of the squid — the head, wings and body — is lightly fried and served with squid ink aioli, pickled zucchini and salad leaves tossed in a slightly spicy vinaigrette. It's a great plate to share as a starter, although it's also completely manageable on your own.
Made-to-order tortelli ($26) are filled with pumpkin, sealed, cooked and served with a burnt butter sauce topped with crumbled amaretti biscuits, which soak up the butter and add a little almond-y sweetness. De Marco proudly claims that his Filipino sous-chef Ferdinand Malgarejo (who has worked alongside De Marco in various kitchens, progressing through the ranks from kitchen hand) makes the best Italian food in the world. He is certainly quick. Ferdinand can fill and close seven tortelli in 32 seconds.
While making the tortelli to order is novel, and ensures maximum freshness, De Marco introduced it for a different reason: to reduce waste."When you make the filled pasta ahead of time and put it in the fridge, you risk wastage," explains De Marco. "And why would I do that when he [Ferdinand] is so fast? You are eating pasta that was closed a minute and a half ago."
Desserts also hide much more than their fluffy, chocolate-covered exteriors first convey. The tiramisu ($14), for example, might look like any other tiramisu, but De Marco makes everything from scratch — including the savoiardi biscuits and the mascarpone. He also beats the egg whites with sugar syrup for 45 minutes for extra fluffiness. According to De Marco, "It is like eating a cloud."
De Marco is happy at his new restaurant, but he'd hope to be — he lives above it, goes to bed at 2am and gets up at 5am. "I love it so much. This is me," he beams.
Images: Parker Blain.