Born out of a desire to bring old-school hospitality back to the eastern suburbs, Café Bellagio is a well-liked local which has recently expanded to offer dinner with a touch of French and Spanish influence. Located in the old Albion Cycles store, it's a neat, laidback space with banquets, cushions and plenty of greenery.
You can start with a selection of cheeses or a charcuterie plate ($28), which includes slices of salami, aged wagyu and piquant Cinghiale sausage as well as house-pickled vegetables and a moreish chicken liver pate. The slices of bread are airy (from their sister cafe Nelson Road Tuckshop), and the salty smoked butter is ideal.
The menu starts with smaller options, like the trio of flavour-packed salt cod croquettes ($15); the flakes of pickled chilli and shaved mojama, a Spanish salt-cured tuna, really takes the dish up a level. Also good is the charred cumin cauliflower ($18), which comes resting on a thick bed of paprika and tomato puree, with tahini buttermilk crisscrossed over them.
The European influence continues into the larger share plates, which include confit duck ($22). The meat is tender and paired with elements of sweetness in the heirloom carrots and poached plum, as well as crunch in the form of black barley. Another, braised oxtail ($24), is rich and hearty and prettily plated, with swirls of crisp parsley, a dollop of parsnip puree and a drizzle of coffee jus.
You'll also want to hang around for dessert, which once again adds another unusual ingredient — here, finger lime — to great effect. A sprinkling of the zesty pearls add a taste of native tucker to a deconstructed rhubarb cheesecake ($13) with crunchy notes of ginger and butterscotch.
There are also a couple of cocktails on offer, including an old fashioned made with Maker's Mark, raw sugar and orange bitters. The wine list is mostly Australian with the odd Spanish or French glass. You can't go wrong with a light 2015 Foster e Rocco Sangiovese ($11) or a zesty clos Clare Riesling ($13).
With a cosy feel and some welcome touches of Mediterranean flair, Café Bellagio has skilfully expanded from friendly local café to superior neighbourhood bistro.