If there's a cuisine that is made for long leisurely meals shared with a group, it has to be Italian. More often than not, meals are spread out over three to four courses: you'll start with an aperitivo while you enjoy an antipasto spread, next comes the primo course (usually a hot dish like pasta), then you'll have the secondo (a meat dish) with a contorno or side dish. Finish off with some formaggio or something dolce (sweet) and you'll have one molto bene feast. Buon appetito!
Melbourne's best Italian restaurants
Best for: a quick (but delicious) carb loading.
Mario's celebrated their 30th anniversary in 2016 and they're still going strong. The bolognese is still the go to dish for Fitzrovians needing a comforting bowl of red sauce, pasta and garlic bread. They have also made a point of only serving coffees using full cream milk, so if you have any special needs, don't expect to find sympathy here. The coffee is good and the service always pronto.
Best for: Classic Italian.
Café Di Stasio is a restaurant that’s well and truly earned its reputation as one of Melbourne’s greats. The guarantee of great service, fresh, refined Italian and potential knees ups after 11pm has been St Kilda’s only reliable feature for over two decades. They serve dinner, sure, but if you want to see some real magic, hit Di Stasio for lunch.
Best for: Hearty, gourmet Italian.
At Guy Grossi's esteemed ristorante Grossi Florentino, you sample primo local produce (think oysters, spanner crabs and duck) that's gourmet without skimping on the all important hearty factor. Feeling less celebratory? The Cellar Bar next door does a mean lasagne and spaghetti bolognese under $20.
Best for: Neil Perry’s magic touch.
Italian Rosetta is Neil Perry’s schmickItalian ristorante. Breathtakingly theatrical, Rosetta is a more sophisticated scene, no question – the soundtrack is opera and waiters wear white linen jackets. But as neon-hipster-and-placemat-menu-free as Rosetta is, you’ll still find incredibly approachable food.
Best for: Pasta as it should be – simple, unfussy, utterly satisfying.
Trattoria Emilia is a secret laneway haunt that with a menu that smacks of regional Italy. For $35, you get a wooden board heaving with finger-lickin’ antipasto that could pass for lunch (for two) in itself.
Best for: Sicilian food.
Meet the Italian restaurant on Lygon Street you won’t want to bypass. Bar Idda is a great night out – it’s inexpensive, it’s tasty and it’s fun. The music pumps, wine is served by the litre and the snacks come out thick and fast. Keep your eye out for the all-Italian beer list and beef meatballs.
Best for: Friendly staff and yummy salumi.
Ombra is a salumi bar that encapsulates everything great about Melbourne dining – it’s casual and fun with sharp service preserved. One of Guy Grossi’s joints, Grossi’s Berkshire pigs have been transformed in the kitchen into rose-pink pinches of salty, air-dried capocollo, and fat-freckled slices of spicy salami nobile.
Best for: Modern Italian.
Fatto is an all-day Italian bar and cantina with a menu that focuses on the vibrant, gusty flavors of Italy. Fatto serves punchy Italian share plates, salads, pastries and paninis, making it a great casual destination. This is pizza-free zone, so don’t come in expecting a cheesy slice for dinner.
Best for: The golf ball-sized pork meatballs and pizza.
Unapologetically old school with mod-Melbourne lines, Lupino is hammering out pan-Italian classics like they’re going out of style. Chef Marco Lori’s menu has as many bites as it does behemoths and the accompanying wine list is easy, listing Italian drops from light and breezy to big and ballsy.
Best for: A celebratory feast.
Meals include a variety of traditional Italian ingredients including vegetables, herbs, poultry, honey and fruits, all sourced from local, organic growers. Only set menus are available, so expect a long sit-in featuring some top-shelf local produce.