Great hospitality requires an exceptional host and, at the new Bar di Stasio, theyve got a cracker. His name is Daniele, a young Italian fresh out from Ancona, I think he said, and he works the 40-seat space like a stage.
When we arrive for lunch there is not another soul in this chic new bar annexed to the landmark Café di Stasio, but Danieles personality is big enough to fill the place twice over. When we ask the obligatory how are you? he bellows, I am powerful! and somehow we just know were in for a good time.
He recommends kicking off with a Roman mule. Its a muddle of vodka, mint, ginger beer and Ramazzotti, an amaro liqueur made to a 200-year-old recipe. A perfect match for this long, hot summer were having.
While he stirs the spirits, we check out the renos. What used to be a Japanese restaurant is now a terrazzo-floored space with glossy walls of waxed plaster and a sexy slab of marble bartop. High padded stools front the counter, pale-timber tables and chairs surround it. A rear corridor leads to two private rooms.
The standout visuals are artworks by Biennale star Callum Morton. The maze of red scaffolding above the entrance is a bit well, you can make up your own mind. It just seems a bit noisy for this serene space.
Apparently the distressed walls and renovation remnants, cased behind glass, are also his doing. Being a philistine, I dont grasp that fact immediately.
No-no-no-no-no, he shakes his head, slowly. We had to pay a leetle bit more than that for this.
What is it art? Yes. Callum Morton was the artist. He did the red one as well.
Right, well, salute! Saved by the mules. Two silver cups appear, gaily striped straws poking out the top. They are, as expected, ideal in this weather. Even better with food.
Our new mate gets us in the mood. Would you like some beautiful bolognese arancini? he asks. I promise you this they make the arancini even better than my mother. Have you told your mother? No. I wont be telling my mother.
The three risotto balls are ping-pong sized, crisp outside, creamy soft inside, the flavours boosted by a forceful aïoli dip.
Fried tastes of the sea calamari rings, fat prawns, white fish, soft-shell crab are lightly battered and seasoned and served in a paper cone with a squeeze of lemon. Simple pleasures.
Caprese al forno is deliciously unorthodox two slow-roasted tomato halves, each crowned with a dollop of goats cheese nicely browned by the grill, and a tiny basil leaf on top. Its soft and yielding and savoury, served with grilled bread smeared with a hint of garlic.
Mmm, the animal bits are niiiice, groans my usually vegetarian friend. (Bacon. Gets em every time.) The only thing I wish for is some bread to mop up the sauce, because my fingers get really greasy doing the job.
All this food is making us hungry; what else, Daniele?
The lamb chops are speechless! he declares.
They are served almost rare, the flavours enhanced by salt and lemon, with a chilli-laced Chianti relish on the side thats superfluous for anyone who loves their lamb.
Seared and sliced tuna with beans and agrodolce is the least interesting plate. Theres nothing wrong with it the tuna lightly seared with a parsley crust and drizzled with sweet-and-sour sauce but it doesnt impress like the rest of the dishes. And it doesnt even come close to the miniature pigeon pie.
It could almost do for dessert, but then youd miss the pleasure of the the crostata di frutta, a blueberry-filled, just-warmed tart that, quite literally, melts on the tongue.
By the time we leave, in the middle of a glorious summer afternoon, the new Bar di Stasio is packed. And Daniele is at the height of his powerfulness.we rate 7½ / 10
eat thisBAR DI STASIO
31 Fitzroy Street, St KildaCuisine Italian Chef Steven Rofe Hip pocket Eat well for $30-$40 a head Open Daily 11.30am-11pm Highlights The staff, the cocktails, the food Lowlights The scaffolding Bookings Yes, but feel free to drop in Phone 9525 3999