The Best Restaurants in Melbourne’s Little Italy Are on Opposite Sides of the Street
In pub form, it’s usually made with chicken or eggplant, but Capitano uses veal on the bone, which has been pounded out to the size of a vinyl LP, breaded and pan-fried, then covered in rich red sauce, globs of melted mozzarella and a flurry of fresh basil. It costs $65, can easily feed two or three people and is utterly spectacular: crisp edges, melty cheese, tangy sauce, meaty wonder.
This and other elements of Capitano could be described as modern nostalgia — loving nods to the past imbued with much of what’s great about eating and drinking in the present. The Negroni has a subtle kick of high-quality saffron lurking in its bittersweet, boozy depths; the martini is made with olive oil-infused gin and olive-leaf bitters.
I have always taken issue with oversalting in some of the food at Bar Liberty, and the same is true at Capitano. Chittara with clam sauce would have been lovely had it been edible. The same was almost true of the meatballs. But the pizzas are charred and stretchy in all the right ways, and that veal parma is salted just right.
This old-meets-new Carlton aesthetic is growing: Last year, the longstanding restaurant Da Salvatore Pizza by the Metre closed, reopening in November as Leonardo’s Pizza Palace under the direction of another group of well-known young restaurateurs. The new owners kept many of the visual elements of Da Salvatore — several of the original photos still hang on the wall — and the place retains the feel of a 1960s or ‘70s pizza joint. Leonardo’s and Capitano also share some foreign aspirations: Both serve purportedly American-style pepperoni pizzas, and Leonardo’s even provides a side of ranch dressing for crust-dipping. (Still, ranch should not taste predominantly like mayonnaise.)
I’d prefer that these places lean in to the Italian-Australian roots of the area rather than reach for America. I’ve clambered onto this soapbox before, but we ought to be more appreciative of the food culture that is our own.
If anyone needs any more proof of that, they need only book a table at the Olive Jar.
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