Pan-seared squid ink and saffron rice topped with prawns.
After 20 years delivering wholesome Italian fare and hospitality on Nicholson Street, Arrivederci has finally said goodbye. In its place comes Scopri (“to discover”), and if early signs are any indication its reign will be just as illustrious.
Owners Anthony Scutella and Alison Foley spent a year working and travelling through Italy gathering inspiration for their debut in the heart of Melbourne’s Italian quarter, the most obvious legacy of their sabbatical being a black-and-white image of a vine-striped hillside in Treiso, Piedmont. It occupies an entire wall of the revamped interior and was snapped by amateur photographer Scutella, whose family hails from nearby Alba, home of white truffles and Ferrero Rocher. It sets the mood, and perhaps also the aspirations, of Scopri – somewhere in that hilltop village is the Michelin-starred La Ciau del Tornavento, one of Scutella’s favourite dining experiences in the?motherland.
Unlike the photograph, Scopri is no two-dimensional experience. On a chill spring evening, we bustle in from the street to a split-level dining room echoing with voices, laughter, chinking cutlery and clinking glasses. Clothed tables, fine glassware and soft lighting enhance the makeover from family-owned trattoria to sophisticated restaurant.
The menu cherrypicks its way along the peninsula, with offerings such as a Genovese veal-and-onion lasagna and a Neapolitan braised goat, based on a recipe from chef Salvatore Caccioppoli’s father. Filling in the gaps is a confident list of tempting Italian plates divided, according to tradition, into antipasti, pasta e riso, carne?e pesce and dolce.
We begin with the bacalao, a sculptural display of salt-preserved cod prepared three ways – alla napoletana, alla vicentina and alla mantecato. Napoletana is a rustic, simple sauce of tomato, capers and olives, while vicentina is a more luscious preparation of cod cooked in milk with a hint of garlic, and two points of Genovese chickpea polenta poking out the top like little cat’s ears. Mantecato is a Caccioppoli staple, transplanted here from his previous gig at Kew’s Svago, of cod whisked with butter, served on a parmesan crisp and tricked up with a potato and lemon foam. Such flourishes elevate Scopri above basic trattoria status and justify its tag as a modern Italian restaurant. I like the mantecato best, but that’s probably because I’m not a huge fan of bacalao. The further removed it is from its origins, the more likely I am to enjoy it.
Our second entrée is two geometric blocks of fried rice, one tinted golden-orange with saffron and the other black with squid ink. They have been baked or fried off until each has a crunchy, caramelised crust. It crumbles with a tap of the fork, the individual rice grains collapsing into a pool of heady prawn bisque. Three Crystal Bay prawns crown this stunning entree.
For mains, the porchetta’s preparation hails from Rome – slow-roasted with a ragu of borlotti beans – but the presentation is Carlton-contemporary. It arrives as two triangular wedges, more fleshy than fatty, of Berkshire pork belly with a judicious pinch of sea salt and the ragu arrayed artfully around. Perhaps the meat?could have been juicier and fattier but the flavours were faultless.
The capretto, or suckling goat, hails from Seven Hills in Tallarook and is sourced between one and three months old. According to his father’s recipe, Caccioppoli breaks the legs into pieces, some boned others not, colours it in a pan, then roasts it with white wine, vegetable stock, spring onions and new potatoes for a minimum of three hours. The result is a subtle meat, tender and beautifully gelatinous, studded with fresh peas and pecorino. It’s easy to taste why this has become one of Scopri’s star dishes since it opened.
The desserts list offers a variety of cakes – flourless chocolate, baba al rhum and a Sorrento sponge with lemon custard – and a coffee zabaglione on buffalo mozzarella. We opt for the lesser of the available evils, a slice of buttery taleggio from Lombardy with side notes of Kangaroo Island honey and salted ricotta.
The wine list is short and smart. We relish a Wonga Estate chardonnay from the Yarra Valley but if you fancy a Barbaresco, you can bring your own (as diners frequently do) and pay a modest $10 corkage. It’s just another reason to warm to Carlton’s newest Italian neighbour.
Scopri, 191 Nicholson Street, Carlton
Cuisine \ Modern
Head chef \ Salvatore Caccioppoli
Hip pocket \ About $65 for three courses, wine extra.
Open \ Monday-Friday lunch ($35 two-course and wine special) and dinner; Saturday dinner from 6pm.
Highlights \ Dedicated staff, contemporary riffs on classic Italian fare.
Lowlights \ No complaints.
Bookings \ Yes, on 9347 8252
We rate it 7/10.