There’s a section of Little Bourke Street known to some as ‘Adventure Town’ for its abundance of camping shops. You’ve been there lots – it’s that shadowy, raked strip of toe shoe spruikers and spondonicle peddlers just west of Elizabeth Street. It’s also pound for pound one of the best places to eat in the CBD.
Maybe you know it as the site of Shanghai Street’s first outpost. Possibly for OG third-wave coffee hovel Brother Baba Budan. Perhaps you frequent the Danish Consulate’s secret smørrebrød dispensary, Denmark House. It’s a busy beat, and while there might be no denser concentration of carabiners in the southern hemisphere, the best adventures in these parts are fairly and squarely culinary. If you’ve had some luck in life, you might just know this moody Melbourne snapshot for Tipo 00: one of the finest pasta bars you could ever hope to spend your time in.
“It’s not like it used to be,” says our waiter wistfully as she scans an animated dunch crowd, pointing to the fact the 40-seater is only three-quarters full at 3.45pm on this cold Monday and not spilling out the door as per. It is, of course, fully booked at dinner for weeks to come, but “the tourists just aren’t here anymore”, meaning there are a couple of unoccupied seats under Tipo’s powder blue ceiling for the first time in a long time. That’s good news for you, and just between us, dunchtime might just be the best time to eat here.
There’s a sort of post-lunch-rush afterglow in the air that is very attractive: the floor team taking turns resting a minute with their staff meals up the back; the amber glow of the spotlit pass fending off the waning winter light outside; the kitchen crew sharing a quiet gag as they calmly prep for the evening surge. It’s all of the warmth and invitation built into the term ‘pasta bar’, but with a guard-down, backstage sincerity that is almost Disney-esque.
Possibly you’re here for a quick bowl and a glass of wine at the handsome marble bar. Good for you, you’re not alone. There’s plenty by the glass on Tipo’s 80/20 Italian/local list, and the sharp team will be delighted to pour you something that speaks to you and your spaghetti. If you can afford the time, though, take it easy and consult the starters. Sliced whisper-thin under the centrepiece copper lamps, the locally sourced salumi is led by a stunning chilli-and-fennel lonza that piles on warm bread and disappears shortly thereafter. The charred calamari, cut into rough triangles like offcuts from a paper bunting, is also flawless, a fresh bed of celery and farro offering earthy support. And if the stracciatella is anything like that plated next door at Tipo’s sister restaurant, Osteria Ilaria, you’re in for something unforgettable again. But we shan’t be filling up on starters at the restaurant named and famed for its pasta flour. Not again.
Today’s staff meal happens to be the special: a pine mushroom, cocoa pappardelle, and it is simply unignorable as it leaves the pass en route to the team. Sliced like tinned peaches, the fleshy mushrooms yield to a buttery sauce that combines with pine nut cream in undergirding the leather-brown straps of pasta. Crisped ears of saltbush add a lick of green and a herbaceous lift to a categorically autumnal arrangement – a deep, meat-free must-have if it’s on.
Duck gnocchi and rabbit tagliatelle push things into the depths of winter, but the casarecce, an inspired reimagining of the humble carbonara, should be adduced as proof of God and served to the condemned on the eve of execution. Candied guanciale is coated by a smoked yolk that disappears through the crevasses of the dense casarecce when punctured, a vibrant nettle base offsetting some of the richness – a richness that outriches its progenitor, would you believe, rendered richer still for the occasional pillow of sultry parmesan cream and the salt from our cascading tears of ecstasy.
Welcome is the knowledge that every dessert is available by the half portion, and if you’ve come this far, you might as well see what the “Tipomisú” is all about. With a reputation that precedes it, the cleverly built house spin on the time-honoured classic will likely push you, glutton, to your upper limits, thanks to the addition of salted caramel. But it is well worth it, the good news being that, at that point, the classy rhubarb and honey panna cotta will almost play like a gelatinous digestif – though there is plenty of amari available to that end.
That Tipo 00 is one of the country’s best carb bars is not new news. That it continues to excite over half a decade on, though, is cause for celebration. It really does it all – for any combination of people (save for coeliacs, sorry), at any time, for any purpose, in any outfit. And if you’re ducking in for a quick feed (there are always a few seats reserved for walk-ins), it doesn’t even have to be expensive. Tipo 00 is the kind of restaurant you want to show off to visitors, the kind of place that makes you proud to call Melbourne home. Proof, above all, that the greatest adventures in Adventure Town needn’t be taken in toe shoes.