The name Pietro Barbagallo should be familiar to anyone who appreciates a Neapolitan-style pizza. He’s graced the ovens of I Carusi in St Kilda and opened Barbagallo in the CBD, before finally settling into the no-frills Carlton warehouse pizzeria Kaprica. Mr Pietro, Barbagallo’s new venture, is a slightly more adult offering, taking the focus away from pizzas and putting forward some lesser-known traditional Sicilian plates.
Mr Pietro’s charm comes from its quiet confidence and understated décor. Unlike its counterparts along Lygon Street (around the corner), which are strewn with clichés of red-and-white gingham tablecloths, Italian flags, Alfa Romeo logos and spruikers out the front thickening their accents to attract the unknowing tourist, Mr Pietro’s frontage is hidden among terrace houses, unmarked and unmanned. Those who venture in will be met with a grand, white room that can seat 100, accented with chestnut-stained wooden furniture and some of that white Italian marble. And of course, there is a coveted, more colourful courtyard for al fresco dining. Mr Pietro shows you it’s Italian; it doesn’t have to scream it.
You’ll find the restaurant packed with locals in the know, Barbagallo’s long-time adoring fans and a healthy handful of Melbourne’s older hospitality workers. It’s the kind of place you can have a first date, catch up with friends or bring grandma for dinner. The menu isn’t alienating; it reads like any other you’d find on Lygon Street, littered with the greatest hits such as a caprese salad, garlic prawns and cannelloni, but the execution is traditional, restrained and with top-notch ingredients. Garlic prawns are just cooked, curled up in a pool of warm olive oil hit with a fistful of sweetened, caramelised garlic, barely detectable shreds of chilli and herbaceous parsley. The octopus salad is a must-order, generous with coins of tender octopus tumbled in a salad where fragrant parsley, basil and celery take the place of salad leaves. The salad is dressed with a heavily pepper-spiked yet subtle vinaigrette.
A few pizzas and pastas have been transported here from Kaprica, and the execution is just as precise. Pizzas have the same thin, yeasted crust slathered with fresh tomato and buffalo mozzarella, dotted with basil and finished with a swirl of olive oil to create Barbagallo’s fresher, lighter, signature pizza. Spaghetti comes cooked to the tooth, tangled in a light, sweet, briny emulsion made from the juices of perfectly cooked diamond clams. Those who lust for a taste of Sicily would be wise to order the baccala: dried, salted cod that has been brought back to life in a rich, tomato sauce.
Drinks are more simple than serious, with cocktails leaning more on the aperitivo end with Americanos, spritzes and Negronis. Wines, too, are uncomplicated, where well-known varietals such as chardonnay and pinot noir sit comfortably next to Australian examples of pinot grigio and nebbiolo and with no exceptions are served out of a latte glass.
Mr Pietro is not here to reinvent the wheel, but it’s reminded us that there are very few things that will never go out of fashion in Melbourne. And aside from wearing black, honest Italian food is one of them.