Mark + Vinny's Spaghetti and Spritz Bar opened this April, and, as promised, it's turning out some seriously radioactive-looking pastas. These colourful creations are brought to you by restaurateur Mark Filippelli (co-owner of Melbourne's Matcha Mylkbar) and his best mate Vince Pizzinga, who are offering Sydneysiders sustainable, ethical and vegan fare, some of which looks like it came from another planet.
Set in an intimate space along a quiet strip of Waterloo Street, the restaurant sits between the stalwart cafe Orto Trading Co. and the Light Rail construction. This means the block is completely dead on a Tuesday night — apart from the bustling Mark + Vinny's, that is. For its first week it was an impressive sight — every table was taken within the first hour and the space was filled with excited chatter.
Although the restaurant fits barely more than ten tables inside, the servers move around seamlessly and the friendly service adds to the lively vibe. Maybe it was just the spritzes talking, but people really seemed to be indulgently enjoying themselves.
With a menu of 20 spritzes on offer, it's hard not to feel the urge to try a few, though the sheer size of the menu is overwhelming and we found it best to ask the server for suggestions — round after round. Filippelli and Pizzinga both have their own namesake spritzes and, of the many we tried on the night, they did prove to be some of the best.
The Vince comes with theatrically scorched, Frangelico-soaked hazelnuts, along with blood orange and wattle cola — a combination that is reminiscent of a classic Venetian spritz but taken to the next level. The Mark better resembles a tropical cocktail, made with white rum, watermelon and sparkling coconut water, then garnished with a whole lychee and served in a coconut shell to boot. The drinks do take a bit to come out, but you can hardly blame the bartender considering the number of ingredients and tiny space with which they have to operate. Despite the wait, the drinks were beautifully executed every time.
The nearly-a-bar vibe almost had us fooled, but in truth it's not really a place to come just for drinks — though the outdoor patio seating begs for an aperitivo hour in warmer weather. Food-wise, we came for the main drawcard: the neon blue spirulina pasta. On the menu, it takes the form of a blue swimmer crab tagliatelle, topped with cured fish roe and crunchy breadcrumbs. We were surprised how well it worked, with the blue colouring complementing the oceanic ingredients. The pasta itself had a nice bite to it, and, apart from the neon aspect, tasted like any freshly-made pasta ought to.
The modern spins are accompanied by some hearty classics, like the maccarruni calabrese, a recipe from Pizzinga's nonna that is made with beef rib ragu, which is slow-cooked the traditional Calabrian way. The long and chewy pasta is miles away from the macaroni you've had as a kid and is likely the best on the menu. In terms of the vegan carbonara, we can finally confirm that the vegan egg really does ooze like real yolk and adds the creaminess needed; the house-cured mushroom is a pretty convincing pancetta replacement, too, though the texture of the activated charcoal bucatini needs some work.
The duo has smartly recruited head chef Adrian Jankuloski (Icebergs, The Dolphin Hotel). You'll find his personal touches in the entrees, like the burnt eggplant dip served with charred Italian flatbread and a whole red chilli from Jankuloski's backyard; or the zucchini flowers stuffed with smoked almond curd instead of cheese, served over a nutty red capsicum sauce.
Overall, the menu is thoughtfully done and certainly sets the restaurant apart, though we have a feeling its the traditional over the unusual dishes that will keep customers coming back.