Nougat semifreddo with strawberries
The perfectly behaved baby sits in a high chair, slowly knocking remnants of food to the floor. Her four relaxed adult companions keep her entertained, calm and gurgling. Without hostility, as the mess reaches critical mass, a waiter swoops with dustpan and broom.
Mister Bianco, for all its crisply laundered linen, fine food and low lighting, is an Italian local after all.
Kew residents are fortunate to have this classy recent addition to their neighbourhood. The cosy 40-seater is in the space that once belonged to Svago, adjacent to a well-known steakhouse and across the road from a newish, big-name 150-seater.
Owners Joseph Vargetto and Silvio Sgarioto opened Mister Bianco in August, naming it after a town at the base of Mount Etna in Sicily – and a washing powder recalled from their childhoods. The pair also owns Mezzo Bar and Grill in Little Bourke Street.
The menus at Mezzo and Mister Bianco appear similar but Vargetto, the executive chef, says city diners are after something a little different to the home crowd in Kew.
“I’m a local too,” he says. “The people here want their food kept fresh and low-key. They want dishes that they could cook at home but with different flavours and added interest. They want organic, seasonal produce – just the sort of food that I grew up with.”
Risotto of stinging nettle
They want different dining hours to the city crowd too, he says. Vargetto, who has two young children of his own, recognises that many of his clients “don’t want to squeeze their meal around two sittings a night, and that it might suit them to come at 7pm, when they’ve put their kids to bed”.
Financially, two sittings a night make sense on Friday and Saturday night, he says, but even then he’s willing to be flexible. “We want this place to be a suburban nest,” he says. “Not a conveyor belt.”
The menu takes its inspiration from southern Italy and steers around the familiar, with an eye on trends and a nod to the past. It’s so comprehensively appealing that selection is daunting, despite up to just six choices per category. The clever shared-plates menu solves many a dining dilemma and suits all occasions. Two courses will cost $45, three $55 and four $65.
The wine list is an excellent document too, featuring a comprehensive selection of Australian and Italian wines, with the odd nod to distinction from New Zealand and France. There are 17 by-the-glass options and about 125 bottles on offer, plus beers and spirits.
Stuzzichini on the shared menu include arancini, wagyu meatballs and semolina-dusted calamari.
Cavatelli (semolina gnocchi)
The meatballs, which Vargetto says are made to his mother’s recipe, were a smooth marriage of finely textured pork and wagyu beef, parmesan and rice, spiced with paprika, garlic, chilli and herbs. They were draped with a chunky, slightly sweet tomato sugo and rested on a bed of couscous studded with currants and pinenuts. The arancini’s rice filling was coloured green by spinach, stuffed with provolone and given a gentle nip of chilli, while the tender, spiced calamari was finished to crisp perfection.
The cavatelli (rolled semolina pasta) was described as gnocchi on the menu, so I was expecting softer, dumpling-style pasta, rather than the traditional, slightly firm rolled shells. But my dining companion thoroughly appreciated their fine, ridged texture and the dressing of peas, prawns and mussels, brought together by a superb basil sauce.
The stinging-nettle risotto’s verdant colour and its prosecco-enhanced flavour made it a standout dish, topped with a delicate ricotta, basil and parmesan-filled fried zucchini flower.
The mains were of ideal portion size for a four-course menu. Ocean-farmed barramundi fillets from Cone Bay in WA were pan-fried until their skins crackled, the sweet meat enhanced by little other than lemon, capers and olive oil. The sumptuous, red wine-braised beef cheeks from Gippsland were served on a smooth cloud of polenta and topped with a zesty gremolata.
A trio of desserts finished this selection: a rather huge pot of tiramisu, made to Vargetto’s nonna’s recipe; a pair of pretty pucks of nougat semifreddo, dressed with a strawberry salad; and two excellent orbs of house-made gelato. One gelato scoop was a pale-pink strawberry-infused delight and the other a vanilla-flavoured scoop of heaven, which was, quite appropriately, a crisp, snowy white. firstname.lastname@example.org
Pleasant service with a can-do attitude and sophisticated surroundings make this new Italian bistro a fine addition to Kew’s dining scene. The heartwarming menu has abundant interest and flexibility, while the 23-page wine list is meaningful but not too deep.
285 High Street, Kew
Phone \ 9853 6929
Chef \ Joseph Vargetto
Prices \ Entrees $9-$16; mains $24-$37; desserts $14-$16; shared menus $45-$65
Open \ Friday and Sunday noon-3pm; daily from 6pm
Call it ivory, chalk, milk or pearl, Mister Bianco is appropriately decked out in white. Austere, clean lines and minimal fuss make the paper-and-linen-clothed surfaces and the apron-clad staff the visual heroes here. Rectangular linen-draped shades and hanging orbs keep lighting subtle, while dark-timber bistro chairs and pale, fabric-covered walls create a restrained elegance. Charcoal polished-concrete floors and well-organised serving areas are practical. Carefully considered artwork – a row of floral prints and vivid abstract oil paintings – add personality and charm. The elbow-shaped galley kitchen wraps around an exposed-brick corridor and leads to an intimate courtyard dressed with fairy lights.